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Invitation to 2 Timothy
Second Timothy is a letter cherished by many. It brings back fond memories to me of when I started pastoral ministry as a youth director. I invited seven high school young men to meet with me on Saturday mornings to discuss the meaning of the letter and its rich implications. The only requirement was that they had to memorize the letter with me. To my surprise and delight, they obliged. I look back at that period with such joy as I saw these young men absorb God’s Word and offer me many good insights through their thoughtful questions.
Still, 2 Timothy should not be read merely as a timeless letter devoid of a historical context. The questions of Pauline authenticity and the inherent complications of historical reconstruction have cast doubt on whether we should read the letter back to back with 1 Timothy. In my estimation, there is tremendous value to doing so. At the very least, it helps us to understand the contexts from which Paul was writing the letter and from which Timothy and the remaining believers were receiving the letter. Given the struggle described in 1 Timothy and the apparent defeat they experienced, 2 Timothy seems to address the question of how believers are to continue on. What are we to do when we have done everything possible to stop the spread of heresy and yet have apparently failed? Paul’s answer is simple: endure in the work of ministry. At the same time, the angle he takes is unique relative to the other NT works, at least in its emphasis, and it is perhaps especially relevant to our individualistic and fragmented age.
In short, 2 Timothy presents endurance primarily in terms of friendship (or gospel partnership). The message is that, regardless of how disciplined you are in your devotions, how well-versed you are in theology, or how often you pray and read the Bible, you’re never going to endure unless you are bonded to men and women of the faith who are modeling for you gospel endurance. In other words, endurance depends on being very purposeful about your friendships. While we are called to love and serve all, not all will be equally important for our endurance. For this reason, we must be deliberate about choosing whom we will follow, whom we will pursue covenant friendship with, whom we will fight the good fight with “according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus” (1:1b).
The more personal, relational quality of the letter in comparison to 1 Timothy is seen even in the way Paul addresses Timothy, his primary audience. In the former letter, Paul identified him as his “true child” to highlight Timothy’s status as the apostle’s authoritative representative. In this letter, however, he refers to him as his “beloved child” to reinforce the profundity of their friendship stemming from years of life, suffering, and minister together.
It is also not by accident that from the very outset of the letter Paul draws attention to “family ties.” Paul serves God as his ancestors did. Timothy’s faith stems from a faith that was seeded by his grandmother Lois and his mother, Eunice. And Paul counts himself as Timothy’s father with respect to the faith. All this helps us appreciate the angle Paul adopts for discussing endurance: personal loyalty to predecessors and partners in the faith. For Paul, Timothy’s allegiance to the apostle and his gospel was fundamentally the same as his loyalty to Christ.
This approach to encouraging endurance is effective, good, and biblically warranted—it’s not manipulative. My parents, for example, are missionaries in Honduras. While imperfect in their own ways, for the entirety of my life they have sought to instill the message that any life lived apart from faith in Christ Jesus and service to the King is meaningless. In all my pursuits, my father promoted the outlook, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God ” (1Cor 10:31 ESV). My mother poured richly into the lives of others, particularly those that lacked sufficient means to enjoy the holidays. When I left for college and continued graduate education, both encouraged me to steward my single years well and do everything possible to become a vessel useful to the Master. Since retiring early from their dental practice in New York City, they have dedicated their lives to serving those with less. Given this rich spiritual lineage, any apostasy on my end would undoubtedly impact my relationship to my parents. It is not as if they would cease to love me and count me as their son, but they would view any abandonment of faith as some kind of betrayal of our familial ties and, equally, any minimization of our bond as a form of dishonoring God.
Something analogous is taking place in 2 Timothy. The apostle doesn’t shy away from focusing on his personal relationship with Timothy and the remaining believers to trigger endurance. In a sense, Paul is exhorting his audience, “Remember Christ by remembering me and my gospel” (see esp. 1:8). The degree to which Paul underscores the tie between himself and Christ might be unsettling, but perhaps the problem is less with the apostle and more with us, who have yet to grasp the depth and implications of our faith-union with the resurrected and exalted Lord.
Authority and Audience
Unfortunately, it is widely viewed as “common knowledge” that the historical apostle Paul was not the real author of 1–2 Timothy and Titus and that these letters embody pseudepigraphal works. The basis for the arguments against Pauline authorship range from differences in language to a theology (or theological focus) that doesn’t appear in his other writings. Some historical points are put forward to argue that the Church appears too developed at this juncture for the letters to have been written in Paul’s lifetime.
Thankfully, there appears to be a growth in the number of scholars who are embracing Pauline authorship, though the waves of scholarly opinion regularly shift. Recent research on the subject of pseudepigrapha has cast doubt on whether it was as pervasive and acceptable as some have supposed. Moreover, the arguments that center on differences in language and theology become even more tenuous when we recall the basic fact that Paul was writing as a pastor and missionary. Anyone in ministry knows that language and focus will change depending the audience in view. Teaching seminary students, for instance, will look and sound very different than speaking to a youth group. Along these lines, almost every writer can attest to how his or her style and diction have evolved over the years. Should we be surprised that a student thinks and speaks differently post-seminary than he did pre-seminary? In addition, when we consider the scope of the Pauline epistles available to us, the sample set is actually very small, too small in fact to make definitive statements about what was standard for Paul and what was deviant.
Perhaps the best argument for Pauline authorship stems directly from the letters themselves. Take 1 Timothy 2:7, for instance: “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (ESV). It is hard to imagine that an amanuensis would include such statements in a letter if his aim was to give the impression that he was writing in Paul’s voice. Similarly, the historical references leave the impression that the historical Paul was in fact the author. How else are we to make sense of statements like, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia . . .” (1Tim 1:3)? Finally, it is helpful to remember that for most of the Church’s history, believers maintained that the apostle Paul was the author of these letters. This belief was in keeping with the traditional view of seeing the Bible as inspired and, therefore, reliable.
Regarding the audience, as I noted above and in my commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (see Bibliography), it is unlikely that any of these letters were “personal” letters written from one individual to another. This point is especially important to our rhetorical interpretation of the letter. For now, we will make some basic observations to support our thesis.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, observation is that all three letters end with the second-person plural “you all”: “Grace be with you all” (1Tim 6:21; 2Tim 4:7; Titus 3:15). This pattern suggests that these letters were read aloud—more specifically, performed—before the gathering of believers just as Scripture is read aloud in many services today. Second, significant portions of the letters do not make sense if they were simply Paul writing to Timothy and Titus, his beloved and well-known co-laborers. Referencing again the verse we cited above (1Tim 2:7), wouldn’t it be odd for Paul to adopt this somewhat defensive tone in asserting his apostleship if he were only writing to Timothy? Why would he have to reiterate to him, “I am telling the truth, I am not lying”? I can imagine how my wife would respond if someday I came home and declared, “I am Paul, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. I am not lying!”
The most helpful way to view the audience is that Timothy and Titus were the primary recipients and the believers with them were the secondary recipients. Recall, for example, an instance when you received an email or letter addressed to you, but the content was written with the knowledge that others would be present. Sometimes when my wife or I travel, we write emails to each other knowing our children will be huddled around listening to it being read aloud. We craft our communications accordingly to evoke a certain response, not just from each other as spouses, but also from our children.
One implication of this note on authorship is that the secondary audience, that is, the believers who were with these men, would have recognized that any teaching or action on Timothy’s or Titus’s part was in direct obedience to Paul. For example, when Timothy sought to silence the false teachers, including Hymenaeus and Alexander, he was doing so in response to the apostle’s command (1:3). When Timothy implemented the criteria for selecting elders and deacons, he was simply reinforcing that which Paul had already prescribed (3:1–13). By listening carefully to the letter as it was being read, the audience would have recognized Timothy’s and Titus’s appointed authority and the implications of looking down on them: if they rejected these men, then they were effectively rejecting Paul and, ultimately, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who commissioned the apostle.
In sum, readers today benefit from viewing 1–2 Timothy and Titus as letters authored by the historical apostle Paul addressed primarily to Timothy and Titus and secondarily to the believers with them. Given that few people were able to read and there were a limited number of manuscripts available to them, these letters were performed before the believers to elicit a particular response from them. What that intended response was we will now see by tracing the flow of the letter.
The opening words “As for you” are especially instructive because they convey the relational contrast that is so central to the letter. To be sure, in the last days people will not endure sound teaching but will surround themselves with teachers to tickle their ears and will spiral further into self-delusion. To combat this, Paul says, “But as for you” (Timothy), stay sober and continue on the path that your predecessors have trailblazed for you. Such endurance will involve much suffering; nevertheless, by remembering other faithful runners, Timothy and all believers are to persevere in their calling until they have completed the task entrusted to them.
“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
— 2 Timothy 4:5 ESV
I. Letter’s Introduction (1:1–2)
II. Family, Friendship, Faithfulness (1:3–18)
III. A Good Soldier of Christ, a Useful Instrument for the Master (2:1–26)
IV. Godlessness and Faithfulness in the Last Days (3:1–17)
V. Final Charge, Commands, and Encouragement (4:1–18)
VI. Letter’s Conclusion (4:19–22)
Letter’s Introduction (1:1–2)
Compared to 1 Timothy, Paul’s self-identification is more basic: he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” (1:1). Despite the fact that all have turned away from him and his gospel, Paul remains firm in his identity (how enviable!): he is Christ’s authorized representative who uniquely reveals and interprets the gospel of God. His identity is firm because it does not depend on popular reception but is “by the will of God.” Irrespective of any struggles he may face, including imprisonment, he can persist in his apostolic calling because of the life in Christ Jesus that God has promised to all who finish the race set before them.
Even at this point in the letter, Timothy, Paul’s “beloved child,” and the remaining believers with him must have paused for reflection. Are they continuing to root their identity in Christ Jesus? Are they taking their cues for life from God or their immediate culture? Most of all, are they living in anticipation of the life that God has guaranteed to all who have put their trust in Christ Jesus? To any and all who are ailing in these ways, Paul prays, “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1:2).
Family, Friendship, Faithfulness (1:3–18)
The first section, and arguably the entire letter, centers on the theme of remembrance. This section divides neatly into three units: Timothy’s call to remember Paul (1:3–7), the example of Paul remembering his calling to Christ (1:8–14), and the example of Onesiphorus, who has not forgotten Paul but has remembered him (1:15–18). Again, the net effect on Timothy is to remember Christ and the gospel in the face of significant apostasy.
1:3–7 The first unit drives towards the main encouragement for Timothy “to rekindle the gift of God,” which he received at his commission (1:6). Surrounding this exhortation is one recollection after another. Paul begins the unit by highlighting the fact that he remembers those who have come both before and after him. The God he serves is the same God of his ancestors, and it is to this God he intercedes on behalf of Timothy (1:3). The redundant qualifications “constantly” (adialeiptom) and “night and day” convey the profound care Paul has for his “beloved child.” The effect is clear: “I’m always thinking about you all the time.”
Paul then advances their personal connection by conveying his longing to see Timothy that he “might be filled with joy” (1:4), suggesting that his capacity for joy is directly dependent on Timothy’s friendship and presence. Verse 4 seems to recollect an especially poignant moment the two shared that was marked by tears. Whether this was an occasion of intense joy or sorrow, the two undoubtedly bonded more deeply on account of it. The point is that Paul remembers it and hopes that Timothy has not forgotten it.
The apostle, however, is not content to rest there. He goes on to share how “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” (1:5 ESV). Paul is rehearsing Timothy’s rich spiritual lineage. In this regard, Timothy mirrors Paul, who also comes from a line of faith. The question is whether Timothy will continue to serve the God of his grandmother and mother as Paul has done with respect to his predecessors. The description “sincere faith” conveys Paul’s confidence that Timothy will, in fact, be steadfast.
For all these reasons, Paul now reminds Timothy to renew that which has been entrusted to him by God and bestowed by his colleagues in the faith, recalling for his spiritual son that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1:7 ESV). Paul’s description of the Spirit in this way seems purposeful. In the face of opposition and widespread apostasy, we can understand how Timothy and the remaining believers might have been tempted to cower. But to do so would not only represent a betrayal of his spiritual lineage but also a disregard for the gift of the Spirit who enables believers to endure with power and love and resolve.
1:8–14 The second unit begins with a pair of complementary commands: “Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (1:8 ESV). This verse summarizes the content and purpose of the letter. Paul is in prison, suffering because of his call to proclaim the gospel, especially to the Gentiles. Moreover, his colleagues, and other believers in general, are distancing themselves from him, which is a tangible expression of shame. The commands suggest that even Timothy is being tempted to disassociate from Paul in some way. In response to this situation, Paul is exhorting Timothy not to be ashamed. As we indicated in the Introduction, what is especially noteworthy is the way in which Paul identifies himself fully with the Lord Jesus: “the testimony of our Lord” and Paul’s imprisonment are so linked that to be ashamed of and distance oneself from one is to do the same to the other.
Paul, however, is not just asking Timothy not to forget but also to “share in suffering” (sugkakopqthēson) through the Spirit of power and love and discipline. We must hear this specific command in view of the family and friendship “highlights” made in the previous unit. Given Timothy is Paul’s “beloved child” who benefits from the apostle’s constant prayer and example; given their intimate past and profound friendship such that Timothy embodies Paul’s joy; given the effort exerted by Timothy’s grandmother and mother to plant the seed of faith in him; given the elders that laid hands on him; given all this, Timothy is also to participate in the legacy of suffering for the gospel. To do otherwise would be to deny his spiritual lineage. In passing, we note that the detail of Paul’s imprisonment was purposeful: how can Timothy and the believers with him choose comfort and ease when their dear friend and father in the faith is ebbing away in prison?
To facilitate obedience to the command not to be ashamed, Paul presents himself as a model to emulate: “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (1:12 ESV). But couched between the apostle’s call not to be ashamed and his own declaration is an eloquent recapitulation of the gospel. It is not clear why Paul feels compelled to include it here. Perhaps he hopes the majesty of the gospel will help renew Timothy’s faith. Or perhaps the apostle feels the need to reiterate it in response to the false teaching that has infected the church.
Whatever the reason, we can observe basic dynamics and emphases similar to Paul’s summaries of the gospel found in his other letters. These include:
This is the gospel that has been entrusted to Paul and for which he has been appointed a “herald and apostle and teacher” (1:11), and this apostolic calling is why he suffers. Noteworthy is the way in which Paul grounds his suffering in the immensity of the gospel and his personal relationship to it (and we note the difference it makes on those who suffer when their suffering is full of meaning and purpose). As great as Paul’s suffering is, expressed in terms of imprisonment and abandonment, far greater is the manifestation of God’s amazing grace to cover not just the span of history but also times eternal. Believers in every time and place can forget this, especially when they suffer, hence the need to continually preach the gospel to our own hearts.
Verse 12 can be understood in two ways. Paul is expressing confidence that God will not forget Paul’s entrustment to him—all his labors done in the hope of life in Christ Jesus—or that God himself is committed to his own gospel so that his servants would never suppose that their labors are in vain. The latter seems more likely: on a cosmic level, God will bring to completion the good work he has started in making for himself one new people in a new heavens and new earth (see 2:9). Regardless, Paul is not ashamed, and so Timothy should endure by “following the patterns of the sound words” he has heard from the apostle (1:13) and “guarding the good deposit” entrusted to him. Again, we want to underscore the father-son dynamic at work here: Paul, Timothy’s spiritual father, has been entrusted with the gospel, so he perseveres even in the face of much suffering. Timothy, Paul’s beloved son, is therefore to imitate his father “by the Holy Spirit” (1:14) and out of personal loyalty to Paul.
1:15–18 The last unit of this section introduces us to a significant figure whose impact on Christianity can be overlooked. Paul begins by recounting what seems to be common knowledge: “You know this, that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (1:15). We can thus understand Paul’s longing to see Timothy and the language of shame, forgetting, and despair Paul has utilized. Like Jesus in Gethsemane and at the cross, almost all have abandoned Paul, including these well-known figures among the believers, Phygelus and Hermogenes. Yet, amidst all this darkness and despair shines one bright light: Onesiphorus. Paul prays a prayer of blessing upon him because “he often lifted his support and was not ashamed of my chains” (1:16). This lack of shame was expressed by his effort to do the exact opposite of distancing: “when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me” (1:17). The implication is that Paul was not easy to find. Still, because he was not ashamed, Onesiphorus persisted and eventually succeeded. Hence, Paul’s prayer of blessing: “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day” (1:18a).
Onesiphorus, then, who was well-known among the audience for all “the service he rendered at Ephesus” (1:18b), serves as an example for Timothy and the believers. Although everyone else had turned away from Paul and his gospel, Onesiphorus did not. Instead, with a Spirit of power and love and determination, he shared in Paul’s suffering for the gospel. The example of Onesiphorus would have served both as an incredible example and a challenge for Timothy. How will he and the believers with him respond? Will they be ashamed, or will they join Paul in suffering for the gospel?
A Good Soldier of Christ, a Useful Instrument for the Master (2:1–26)
This lengthy section, composed of two main units (2:1–13; 2:14–27), is rich in imagery. Again, the controlling question in 2 Timothy seems to be, “What are we to do after we have seemingly lost, when the heretics are prevailing in influence?” Paul’s answer is to endure by remembering those who have come before and, ultimately, by remembering the gospel itself. In this section, it appears that the apostle is offering “insider tips” for how he accomplished this himself. The reader will notice the personal knowledge Paul has of the very things he exhorts.
2:1–7 The controlling motif in the first unit is that of a soldier: Timothy is to share in suffering for the gospel “as a commendable soldier of Christ Jesus” (2:3). The work of such a soldier is outlined in the opening verses: to find strength in the grace of Christ in order to entrust Paul’s gospel to faithful men who will be able to perpetuate it (2:1–2). The mindset of this soldier is presented in different ways. Like an athlete and a hardworking farmer, a soldier of Christ is marked by focus and purpose: he does not get “entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2:4 ESV). Paul invites Timothy to ponder over what he is saying, specifically to meditate on the comparisons to an athlete and hardworking farmer, promising that, eventually, God will grant him insight into these metaphors (2:7).
Many today encourage spirituality so long as we do not become fanatical about our convictions. Ironically, our same culture celebrates athletes and artists who are intensely committed to their craft. We celebrate the athlete who has won multiple championships and who trains at a level that awes even his own peers. The apostle is reminding Timothy and all believers that this is the sort of focus and intensity needed in order to endure in our call to preach the gospel in a hostile world. Ministers of the gospel especially do well to explore whether such serious training and dedication describe their ministry labors.
2:8–13 In the second half of the first unit, the apostle again presents himself as a paradigmatic soldier whose “aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” Recalling again the theme of remembrance, he commands, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, from the seed of David, according to my gospel” (2:8). As we noted in our comments on 1 Timothy 3:16, more than likely these are not Christological statements delineating Christ’s fully divine and human nature but redemptive-historical statements indicating a movement from the age of the flesh to the age of resurrection life. Paul’s gospel is that in the death and resurrection of Christ, a new age has begun.
It is for this good news Paul is “suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound” (2:9 ESV). Even though Paul is in prison, the gospel itself can never be imprisoned because God is committed to it. Hence, even “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2:13). Because the gospel reveals the glory of God, and because God is committed to bringing himself glory, he will not stop until the gospel has reached the ends of the earth. It is for this reason (“therefore,” 2:10) that Paul can endure all things for the elect, that by his endurance they might be saved. Paul’s efforts are never in vain, even when the outcomes might suggest otherwise, because he is on “the right side of history.”
Verse 10 demands a bit more reflection. Note the apparent contradiction. Paul declares, “I endure all things for the sake of the elect.” If in fact God has elected some unto salvation, then it would seem like what humans do doesn’t really matter. In other words, a belief in divine sovereignty could lead to human passivity. But Paul responds in exactly the opposite way: it is exactly because God has sovereignly elected some unto salvation that Paul perseveres in every good work. The promise of God’s inclusion of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation means that wherever Christians go to bear witness, they will reap some fruit. In this sense, their work quite literally is never in vain. Hence, they can and they ought to persevere.
The language of the second half of verse 10 is also difficult to minimize. Paul seems to suggest that our endurance, or lack thereof, has a direct impact on whether the elect will “obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” We are not denying the orthodox claim that salvation belongs to the Lord. From faith to faith, from beginning to end, salvation rests not on our works but on the mercies of God. Nevertheless, the Bible, as noted here, never downplays the vital, even necessary, role believers play. If we suppose otherwise, we will not fully appreciate why our endurance matters. Nothing less than eternal life and glory for the elect is at stake.
This unit ends with a quadruplet of sayings, the last of which we have already commented on. The first two encourage, the third sobers, and the fourth inspires. The first two center on the implications of union with Christ: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2:11–12 ESV). True participation in the person and work of Christ includes not just the blessing of salvation and the promise of glory but also the suffering inherent in the work of the gospel. The third trustworthy saying states plainly, “If we deny him, he will also deny us”; that is, if we do not endure but ultimately turn away, then we will prove that we had never fully committed to Christ and will thus hear the pronouncement, “I never knew you.” The reader will notice the full orb of blessings and curses Paul applies in order to stir endurance. We must never diminish the grandeurs of glory or the severity of apostasy.
2:14–26 The second unit in this extensive section is neatly organized in an “indicative-imperative” structure. The “indicative” is that “if anyone cleanses himself, he will become a useful instrument to the Master of the house” (2:21). The imperative, therefore, is to flee from youthful passions and pursue righteousness (2:22).
2:14–21 The indicative portion contains plenty of imperatives, but all of them are aimed at the point of becoming a “vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2:21 ESV). Although the precise commands differ, their pattern and focus are constant: focus yourself and others on the truth of the gospel and do everything possible to grow in rightly “handling the word of truth” (2:14a, 15). This is largely accomplished by purposefully avoiding quarreling words, irreverent babble, the gangrene and heretical talk of Hymenaeus and Philetus who claim, “the resurrection has already happened” (2:14b, 16–18). The latter is important to do because their empty talk “ruins the hearers,” “swerve people from the truth,” and “upset the faith of some.” Instead, Timothy and the audience are to remember and cling to “God’s firm foundation that bears the seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from evil’” (2:19).
It is possible to get lost in this litany of complementary commands. Perhaps for this reason, Paul caps off this section with simple and straightforward imagery. In a house there are items of immense value and of little value, “vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay” (2:20). Paul’s desire is for his beloved child and all the believers with him to aspire to become instruments for “honorable use.”
2:22–26 The imperative portion repeats and builds off of the collection of commands in the indicative portion with some variation. Again, Paul’s predilection for contrast is evident. To become “useful to the master,” Timothy and the believers are to pursue a path different from the false teachers who seem to relish “foolish, ignorant controversies” and constant “quarrels” (2:23). Like a world-class athlete who flees one direction in life and zeals after another (2:22), so too “the Lord’s servant” must aspire to be different, kind and gracious to all, correcting with gentleness in hope, that God might grant repentance and deliverance from the devil’s snare.
Some final comments are in order for this last portion. First, the “soldier of Christ” is marked not just by discipline but also by gentleness and kindness. The soldier imagery, if taken too far, might encourage brash behavior and violent speech. But the apostle advocates the opposite, namely that their words and actions must be as pure and commendable as the gospel itself. Second, Paul describes the plight of these believers in profoundly supernatural terms: Paul’s opponents have been ensnared by the devil to do his bidding (2:26). Their error is not merely intellectual; rather, it is spiritual. Hence, what is needed is nothing less than full deliverance. At the same time, the way in which God accomplishes this deliverance is natural: through the endurance of ordinary humans who uphold and proclaim the truth of the gospel. It is not cryptic incantations or specialized methods that lead to “exorcisms” but simply faithful and enduring gospel preaching.
Finally, taking a step to survey chapter two as a whole, this basic observation is needed: While salvation is entirely by God’s initiating and sustaining grace, what we do absolutely matters. We cannot be passive. Rather, like soldiers, athletes, and hardworking farmers, we must be self-disciplined, remembering Christ, and laboring with all our might to become useful instruments to the Master. In short, passivity and perseverance do not mix well.
Godlessness and Faithfulness in the Last Days (3:1–17)
The third chapter of 2 Timothy is absolute gold, so much so that we might be tempted to rip it out of context and fail to appreciate how it relates to the broader theme of endurance. This section breaks down into two main units, the first addressing wisdom (3:1–9), the second reiterating the displacement of our allegiances (3:10–17). The common theme in both is knowing the final destination of different models.
3:1–9 The first unit begins with a summons to “know the times,” specifically that “there will come times of difficulty” (3:1). In other words, do not be surprised by suffering. The apostle then lays out an extensive vice list that climaxes with the familiar command, “Avoid such people” (3:5b). Such persons prey upon vulnerable and weak believers who are characterized by always learning but never quite repenting and changing (3:6). Paul then references two individuals who prefigured the opponents that Timothy currently faces. The apostle concludes of these troublemakers that they will not make it very far and that eventually their folly will be self-evident.
Concerning the vice list, two aspects are noteworthy. Paul assumes that at the core of people’s existence is their identity as lovers: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money . . . not lovers of good . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (3:2–4). In short, in the most basic sense, people are worshipers. It is not the case that some people are religious while others are not. The question is not whether a person worships but what a person worships. According to the first commandment, it will be either the one true God or something else in creation. Although these words were written many years ago, it is uncanny how much they describe our culture today. Lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure!
Verse 5 breaks from the vice list via the use of two complementary participles: “having the appearance of godliness but denying its power.” This description loosely recalls Paul’s earlier description of the heretics who imagine that “godliness is a means of gain (1Tim 6:5). What is especially pernicious about people “in the last days” is that though they are in fact abounding in vices, they will ironically appear quite godly. Discernment is thus needed when engaging such persons. For all their talk and acts of piety, do they exhibit the kind of power manifested in times of suffering for the gospel? Do they corroborate their godliness through an abiding willingness to endure and even die with Jesus in order to live and reign with him? In sum, the warning in this first unit is to “understand this,” that people will be evil but will appear good.
Their appearance of godliness explains in part their ability to “creep into households and capture weak women” (3:6a). At first, it may appear that the apostle is making a misogynistic statement, but bear in mind that he has in view a particular segment of women who are “weighed with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth (3:6b–7). The language “never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” suggests they are unconverted.
The command to “avoid such people” reiterates the relational emphasis of the letter: have no loyalty to such persons who “oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (1:8). This command must be heard in light of what Paul stated earlier, namely that “all who are in Asia turned away from me . . .” (1:15). Timothy and the rest of the audience are to “avoid such people,” even though many are doing the opposite.
3:10–17 In the second half of this section, Paul reminds Timothy of what he has done thus far (3:10) and then urges him to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed (3:14). Put plainly, the apostle is unabashedly stating, “Don’t be associates with them. Instead, continue in your association with me and all who subscribe to ‘the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation’” (3:15).
We must appreciate again the way in which Paul gives this command in verse 14. First, as we saw in the first chapter, he rehearses the profound relationship between himself and Timothy. This comes out through the repetition of the pronoun “my”: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra” (3:10–11a ESV). Paul is perfectly aware how people in general will behave between Christ’s first and second coming. But, in a sense, that is irrelevant, because thus far Paul has been marching to a different drummer. In rehearsing their history, Paul is urging Timothy to remember and remain in the pattern he has followed.
What appears to be a passing remark at the end of verse 11 is actually quite significant: “which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” The apostle is drawing specifical focus to the way Paul managed suffering, namely by enduring, the very thing he is facilitating in this letter. But more significant than the way Paul suffered was the constant experience of God’s supernatural deliverance as seen in the Book of Acts. In this regard, Paul is making an apologetic for the necessity and even “goodness” of suffering. Only through suffering do believers typically experience God’s power at work in a supernatural way. In turn, such acts of deliverance uniquely strengthen the faith of those who suffer by increasing their confidence that God knows and is able to deliver according to his wisdom and power. Given Timothy’s witness of both Paul’s suffering and God’s deliverance, Paul encourages Timothy to suffer “well” by enduring in hope of divine deliverance.
Continuing in his portrait of realism, which is vital to guard against being unduly unsettled by suffering, the apostle states plainly, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (1:12–13 ESV). Perhaps here more than anywhere else the apostle is making clear to Timothy that suffering is inevitable. We are reminded of Jesus’s own words to prospective disciples, that foxes have holes, birds of the airs have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matt 8:20). It is not that Paul is promoting the pursuit of suffering itself; rather, he is reiterating that suffering will inevitably follow anyone who genuinely is trying to build a life rooted in and driven by the gospel. Indeed, any person who professes faith but is a stranger to suffering is forced to ask whether a genuine effort is being made to share in the sufferings of Christ.
Verse 13 is building off the vice list in the previous unit, specifically verse 5. These “evil people and impostors” are spiraling and leaving behind a trail of destruction. Instead of saying, “Avoid such people,” Paul now positively states, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (3:14 ESV). Many begin the race of faith, but few finish; hence, the operative verb “continue” (mene): persist, remain, endure in the things Timothy has both learned and been persuaded of even though all have turned aside. Noteworthy is the reiteration again of the personal quality of such perseverance: “from whom you learned it and how from childhood . . .” Such language clearly recalls the opening paragraph where Paul reminded Timothy of his rich spiritual lineage. If Timothy fails in what he has learned and believed, then he is effectively forgetting those who taught him and the fertile ground from which his faith sprouted.
In both 1 and 2 Timothy, Paul describes the object of fixation for the troublemakers as myths, speculations, genealogies, quarrels, and such. For Timothy and all believers, their focus is “the sacred writings.” In Timothy’s context it was what we call the Old Testament; for us today, the Bible. But the apostle adds an important detail: it is knowing “the sacred writings” in the sense of interpreting them as God’s revelation that points to “salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:15). This distinction is important. The apostle is not merely saying that we need to know our Bible; rather, he is indicating a particular way of knowing it, as one story of redemption that climaxes in the person and work of Christ. In short, he promotes a Christo-telic understanding of the Bible.
Verses 16–17 conclude this section and unit with a brief “defense” for why those in the family of God should make knowing the Bible their main preoccupation: “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be completed, fitted for all good work.” Though written by humans for humans and therefore written using the styles, grammar, and literary conventions of each unique historical context, the Bible remains a distinct writing because it is God-inspired: the Spirit is the ultimate author. Even as Jesus was fully God-man, so too God’s revelation is fully divine-human. As such, it displays all the qualities we would expect of God himself: it is reliable, accurate, inspired, true, and so forth.
Being the uniquely inspired and inerrant Word of God, Scripture offers many benefits: it is sufficient for all the tasks needed to carry out the work of the gospel, including instruction, rebuke, correction, and discipline. By focusing on myths and useless debates, the false teachers make themselves less useful for the Master, whereas Timothy and his audience grow and become fully ready and mature in order to complete the good work that God has planned in advance for them. This has been the way of the apostle and Timothy’s predecessors in the faith, and it is why Paul commands Timothy and the believers to persevere in the things they have learned and firmly believed. The Word of God is sufficient for the work set before them.
Final Charge, Commands, and Encouragement (4:1–18)
The last main section in this letter concludes with a final charge and a mix of further encouragement and warnings. For those in ministry, few passages have provided more inspiration than the apostle’s self-assessment of faithfulness and expression of hope: “The commendable fight I have fought, the race I have completed, the faith I have kept. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will recompense to me on that day, the righteous Judge—but not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (4:7–8). We will consider the two units (4:1–8; 4:9–18) in turn as they seek to facilitate endurance in Timothy and the believers.
4:1–8 The first unit has two main parts. The first contains a solemn charge (4:1–5), the second yet another presentation of the apostle’s own example (4:6–8). In the first sub-unit, Paul charges his beloved son to “preach the word; be ready seasonally and ‘unseasonally’; correct, rebuke, and encourage with all patience and teaching” (4:2). These make up the “work of an evangelist,” the substance of “ministry” for both Paul and Timothy (4:5).
4:1–5 Two elements of this charge are noteworthy, and they represent two sides of the same coin. The apostle makes this charge “in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom” (4:1 ESV). That is, when declaring this charge before all, Paul lifts the eyes and hearts of the audience. Indeed, all in Asia have abandoned Paul and his gospel (1:15); Paul himself is bound with chains like a criminal (2:8); people have become lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, spiraling into greater wickedness and evil (3:4, 15). In the face of all this, the temptation to neglect their call to Christ and even separate from Paul was all too real. But rather than living according to the currents of society and the way of many, Timothy and the believers with him are to conduct themselves as those standing before God in anticipation of the King’s return and judgment. In a word, they are to remain heavenly minded.
The second element is that Timothy is to persist in his ministry exactly because “the time is coming” when people will surround themselves with teachers that will suit their passions. They will turn from sound doctrine and trail one silly myth after another (4:3–4). One would think that, given this pervasive and unapologetic refusal to abide in sound doctrine, the apostle might instruct Timothy to go elsewhere or perhaps even to give up. But Paul exhorts the opposite. In response to such apostasy, Paul instructs Timothy to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:5). How can we make sense of this exhortation not to remain silent but to keep preaching the gospel?
At least two reasons come to mind. First, the same basic phenomenon takes place with language: “Use it or lose it.” That is, when we stop using a language for years, we eventually forget it. The same is true for the gospel. Failure to preach, reprove, rebuke, and exhort according to the truth of the gospel will not prove inconsequential; rather, slowly but surely, we will forget that Christ came to save sinners and to initiate a new age.
Second, our silence inclines us to imbibe the tunes of our culture. Consider how a song gets “stuck” in our minds even if we are just listening passively. A cessation of gospel “output” facilitates insensible input, leading believers away from sobriety and endurance. Hence, even though—and exactly because—people will reject sound teaching and will create for themselves echo chambers through select teachers, Timothy cannot remain silent. In response to the coming king, he must complete his work of preserving and promoting the truth of the gospel.
4:6–8 To spur Timothy and the believers with him to endurance, Paul again draws attention to himself as an example to emulate. As we saw in the first chapter, the apostle does not shy away from using poignant imagery: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (4:6 ESV). Some have argued more recently that Paul is not speaking of his death. They use the commands to visit and bring his parchments (4:9, 13) as evidence for this. Perhaps Paul did not think he was about to die immediately, but verse 6 certainly conveys the impression that he believes his time on earth was drawing to a close. Regardless, the rhetorical impact of this verse and what follows is clear: Paul is reaching the end of his ministry, and it is at this point he is able to make the famous declaration that he has fought, run, and preserved the faith to the best of his ability (4:7). He is so confident of this that he declares that Jesus, being the just Lord and Judge, will award to him the “crown of righteousness” for fulfilling his ministry (4:8).
That Paul seeks to spur Timothy to faithfulness by his own example of endurance is made explicit in the second half of verse 8. The “crown of righteousness” is not just for the apostle but also to all who have longed for Christ’s return, to all who have aspired to live a godly life in Christ Jesus (3:12), to all who have died with him and endured for him until the very end (1:11). Just as the outcome of “men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (3:8) is evident to all, so too is the outcome of Paul, whose mind has been renewed in the gospel and is uniquely qualified. Hence, the summons to persevere in what Timothy has learned and believed since he knows the past, present, and future of his family in the faith.
4:9–18 The second half of this section contains final exhortations, updates, warnings, and encouragement. We will limit ourselves to a few comments.
Paul begins by urging Timothy to come see him as soon as possible (4:9). We are reminded of his opening statement where the apostle expressed a deep longing to see Timothy that his joy might be complete (1:4). Paul also fills out what he meant earlier by his statement that all in Asia have abandoned him. Demas, Crescens, and Titus have left him; even Mark is absent, though Paul notes his abiding usefulness. And Tychicus has been sent away. Only Luke remains (4:10–11). Hence, Paul asks Timothy to come soon and to bring Paul’s cloak, books, and parchments (4:13). These details convey the sense that the apostle intends to keep laboring until the bitter end.
This unit continues with a stern warning concerning “Alexander the coppersmith” (4:14). It is possible that this individual played a direct role in Paul’s current imprisonment. It is rare for Paul to issue such a stark warning: “Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message” (4:15). As we saw in the third chapter, Paul does not want believers to live in naivete; rather, they are to minister with a keen understanding of what people are like between Christ’s first and second coming. This general warning is made more acute with Alexander. But Paul also reiterates the need to be gracious. This pattern we also saw in his exhortation to teach with all patience (2:25; 4:2). Instead of taking matters in his own hands, Paul addresses the situation with Alexander by referencing God’s justice: “The Lord will repay him according to his deeds” (4:14). In this somewhat passing remark, Paul is again reiterating the need to live in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who alone will judge all when he returns (4:1). The net effect of this comment is, “Be very concerned for Alexander, but not unduly so.”
The unit ends with a rich encouragement conveyed indirectly through Paul’s own reflections on his current situation. It almost reads as a mentor conveying to his mentee how he has guarded from bitterness and endured in faith. First, he reiterates plainly what he stated at the outset: “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (4:16a). He simply states the fact of the matter. However, abounding in grace, he then says, “May it not be charged against them” (4:16b). This is extraordinary! Paul’s “prayer” echoes Jesus’s own prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He then recounts God’s faithfulness: “But the Lord stood by me . . . and enabled me to fulfill my ministry to the Gentiles” (4:17a). For this reason, because of God’s past faithful deliverance, Paul looks to the future with utmost confidence: “The Lord will continue to rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (4:18a). Thus, “to him be the glory unto the ages of ages, amen” (4:18b).
Endurance, then, is a funny matter. In one sense, it seems to rest entirely on the individual. Timothy must remember and remain loyal to his spiritual lineage; he must adopt the mindset and lifestyle of a soldier, athlete, and farmer; he must seek to become a worker that rightly handles the Word of God; he must discipline himself to become a vessel useful to the Master; he must choose the better path to take. In another sense, however, it seems to rest entirely on God: The Lord stood by Paul and strengthened him “so that” the message might be fully proclaimed to the Gentiles (4:17). In a mysterious way, then, endurance is both a fully human and a fully God matter. Perhaps this is why Paul exhorts Timothy to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (1:8).
One final comment is in order before we look at the letter’s conclusion. It is possible that the Lord himself appeared to Paul in his imprisonment and encouraged him; there is precedent for this according to the Book of Acts (23:11). But given the similarities between the first and last chapter of the letter, it is also possible that this divine encouragement came through Onesiphorus. The “negative” prayer, “May it not be charged against them,” recalls the “positive” prayer, “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus” (1:16). Moreover, Paul immediately references this same household in 4:19. Finally, the overall presentation in this section of all abandoning him but God encouraging him follows the pattern in chapter 1, where Paul declared all abandoned him except Onesiphorus, who searched for Paul, found him, and uplifted his spirit. Given these parallels, another interpretation is possible, namely that the Lord encouraged the apostle through Onesiphorus. The reason this option is worth highlighting is that it helps us appreciate how this relatively unknown figure played an integral role in ensuring Paul’s success in fulfilling his own ministry. Who knows what would have happened to the apostle had this man not sought him out to encourage him to endurance?
Letter’s Conclusion (4:19–22)
The letter ends with a typical blessing (4:22), but before it is a final set of greetings, updates, and encouragements. The long list of names accomplishes two things. First, it reiterates the familial bonds shared between believers. Paul wants Timothy and the believers to know that Prisca, Aquila, the household of Onesiphorus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, “and all the brothers” have not forgotten them. Similarly, he wants them to know what has happened to Erastus and Trophimus precisely because they are family through their shared faith. Second, the mention of all these names reminds Timothy that, although the numbers have dwindled, a faithful remnant remains.
The now redundant urging to “Do your best to come before winter” (4:21) reiterates the personal tone and nature of this letter. The apostle suffers isolation, loneliness, and some measure of discouragement; therefore, he longs to be reunited with his beloved child for a variety of reasons, including assurance that Timothy is still fighting the good fight, running the race, and keeping the faith.
Jeon, Paul S. 2 Timothy: Fight the Good Fight, Finish the Race, Keep the Faith. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2020.
Knight, III, George W. The Pastoral Epistles. NIGTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.
Marshall, I. Howard. The Pastoral Epistles. ICC. London: T&T Clark, 2004.
Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 46. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000.
Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.
Yarbrough, Robert. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018.
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2 Timothy 1
1:1 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.
Guard the Deposit Entrusted to You
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.
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 to1 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,2 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior 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.3 13 Follow the pattern of the sound4 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.
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.
Greek before times eternal
Or what I have entrusted to him; Greek my deposit