Some suggest that if we go about ministry in the “right” way, we can expect the unbelieving culture around us to appreciate and like us, even if they don’t embrace the gospel we’re presenting. But in this conversation on 2 Timothy, John Currie—professor of pastoral theology at Westminster Theology Seminary—says that Paul’s message to Timothy is that if we’re going to be faithful in ministry, we should expect to suffer.
Paul calls Timothy, and us, to biblical fidelity and gospel courage in a darkening culture. Over the course of our conversation on 2 Timothy, which was essentially Paul’s farewell discourse at the end of his ministry, Currie helps teachers grasp what the book says about shame, repentance, and careful handling of the Word of God.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
John Currie: Correction and reproof is one of the ways God gets us off the path of destruction to the path of life. So I think if a Bible teacher says, I get to have this ministry, even when it’s saying hard words and love, I get to have this ministry of turning people from God dishonoring destructive behavior or belief to a God-glorifying lifegiving belief, then that ministry of correction actually becomes something that’s a great privilege.
Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to Help Me Teach the Bible. I’m Nancy Guthrie. Help Me Teach the Bible is a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway, a not for profit publisher of the ESV Bible Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org it’s my joy today to be sitting across from Dr. John Currie, who is professor of Pastoral Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Currie, thank you so much for being willing to help us teach the Bible.
Currie: Well, thanks for the invitation. It’s a great privilege to be here.
Guthrie: I have loved to get to hear John Currie preach. He has been a pastor at many churches for many years, but most recently came back to his alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary to teach. Will you tell us how this love for God’s word and this desire and ability to teach God’s word? How did that develop in your life?
Currie: I wasn’t raised in a Christian home and I came to faith in my teen years. And in the church that I was in, they were very committed to the Bible as the Word of God and the authority of the Bible. They weren’t in the tradition that I’m in now, but they believed the Bible was the Word of God and everything that you did had to come out of the Bible as a Christian. And so that was instilled in me. And then early on I was really drawn to some of the leaders in that church and they were using a particularly as kind of the hot version of the study Bible at that time. It was called the Thompson Chain Reference Bible.
Guthrie: I have one of those on my shelf.
Currie: And my mom bought me a Thompson Chain Reference Bible and I began to just devour it. And the remarkable thing Nancy, was I really wasn’t a student in general. It at that time, I didn’t enjoy reading, but I love reading the Bible. Just what the Lord had done in saving me. And then as I heard men teach and preach the Bible, this just started this steroid desire to say, I think I would like to do that. And then there were a couple of portions of scripture, the last one being in 1 Corinthians 9 that the Lord used over time just to impress on me the call to teach in the law. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul concludes an argument thereby saying, woe to me if I do not preach the gospel. And that kinda jumped off the page and grabbed me.
And then as I got opportunity to teach the Bible and preach the Bible. Christian leaders and pastors, what we would call the external call of the church, started to come to me and say, “We think you should consider gospel ministry.” Then a little Bible college I went to, which was called Peace River Bible Institute up in Northern Alberta really emphasized exegesis and expository preaching. And your job as a pastor was not to give your own opinions, but to say, “What does the Bible say?” So that all built it into me. And so I’m just thankful for the church that I was saved in and the leaders that modeled it for me and the teachers that built it into me.
Guthrie: Absolutely. Well, we’re going to look together in our conversation today at 2 Timothy. We have this very personal letter written by Paul. It’s written near the end of his life and it’s written to this young pastor named Timothy. And I suppose we could call it, in a sense, it’s a bit of a farewell discourse, kind of like some of the other farewell discourses we’ve read in the Bible from Moses, from David, from Jesus. But perhaps you could talk to us a little bit about what has pushed Paul to take up his pen to write this letter.
Currie: Yeah, Paul’s looking at the end of his life and his ministry. And if you look at the end of 2 Timothy, what’s remarkable to me is the final chapter and where he tells Timothy, preach the word, and then in 2 Timothy 4:5 he says, ”Do the work of an evangelist.” So I think what you have in 2 Timothy is the last words of the great missionary to the Gentiles. And he has, amongst others, developed Timothy as his apostolic representative disciple that he has sent to the city of Ephesus to set in order the church which has started to drift. It was at one time what you might call as others have called an epicenter church. It was the church from which a lot of other churches were planted and through which Acts 19 tells us all in Asia heard the gospel, but it started to drift.
And so here you have the great apostle, the missionary-hearted apostle, who is concerned for the protection and the promotion of the gospel in the next generations. I think you see as vision 2 Timothy 2:2 when he says in part to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. And so you see this vision that Paul has beyond himself, beyond Timothy, even beyond the faithful men that Timothy will teach to the others, that he will teach, he will teach others also. So I really think what’s prompted Paul to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is to show Timothy how to protect and how to promote the gospel in what is an increasingly darkening world.
Guthrie: That sounds a little bit like today.
Currie: Sure does. Yeah.
Guthrie: Well, why don’t we dive in to this book. In some ways he has the typical introduction from Paul, but is there something about it that stands out to us?
Currie: You get a picture of who Timothy really is to Paul, you see that he’s been gifted by God for the ministry. He’s been set apart for leadership in the church by the leadership of the church. But I think what’s striking is that you see that Paul identified where the source of his ministry is, where his power is, the power of the spirit living within him. And the Holy Spirit produces in him love and self-control and freedom from fear. What’s interesting about that is it might be that Timothy was dispositionally-oriented toward fear, but we can’t say that for sure, but it’s certainly the context he’s in. He’s in this very difficult context.
And so what’s interesting about this introduction and the first things that we hear about Timothy is that Paul reminds him that he’s a gifted man, he’s set apart for the ministries in a difficult situation, but that he also had all that he needs for ministry. He has the Holy Spirit, who is gonna produce the virtue that he needs and the power that he needs without fear. So I think from the get go, you see that Paul and this’ll show up again and again in the book, he wants to draw Timothy back to the resources that he has in Christ for his own ministry of the word in that difficult, dark context.
Guthrie: I notice in verse 13, Paul says to Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” And then the next verse, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” There’s such a sense of connection between them and him passing on the baton, I suppose, in regard to ministry here.
Currie: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You get to 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul says, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses I entrust to faithful men.” So that idea of the trust, what you have happening is the good deposit that apostolic deposit or the pattern of sound words, that’s the apostolic gospel that has been revealed from above that has been entrusted to the apostles. And Timothy has as he’s traveled with Paul and been discipled by Paul, he’s heard him teach it over and over to many people in many places. And so now 1:13 and other places, where Paul is saying is, “This is a trust. It’s like a runner handing off the baton to another runner.” And so now the apostle’s handing it off to Timothy, his disciple. So it’s a trust. It’s a stewardship. But he’s not entrusting him with theological innovation.
What he’s to do is to pass on what he heard from the apostle. I think it was John MacArthur I heard say one time that the preacher’s like a waiter. His job is to get the food from the kitchen to the table and don’t play with it on the way across the restaurant floor. And what Paul’s saying to Timothy is, “Listen, this was entrusted to me. I’m entrusting it to you. You are to entrust it to others, but your job is not to make it up, is not to invent it, is not to innovate. Your job is to take the apostolic doctrine and pass it on as you open it up.” So that’s what’s going on in 1:13 and happens in 2:2, and another place is in the pastorals.
Guthrie: Let’s go back to verses 8 through 10 because there’s a lot of richness in these verses and it gives us as teachers, the opportunity to teach some very profound things about the person and work of Christ. Let me just read those verses beginning in 1:8. “Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord nor of me his prisoner, but share in the suffering for the gospel by the power of God 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.” There’s a rich phrase, “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.” Wow. So much there about the personal work of Christ. What are some things we can do with that?
Currie: Well, I think in some ways, you have the whole plan of redemption. You know, what God has decreed from eternity to give us in Christ and to give us to Christ, and then the what God has done in redemptive history, that Christ has appeared in the fullness of time to accomplish all that the father purposed. And he has done that and that it’s all of grace. It’s not according to our works. It’s what he has given to us by grace in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And then you have a purpose. He’s called us to a Holy calling. What He has purpose to do in us and through us in Christ conforms to the image of Jesus in His Holiness. So in some ways, you have the whole gospel packed into those verses from eternity to glory.
You could spend weeks and maybe months, if you’re Martin Lloyd-Jones maybe years, in those verses just expounding and opening up all that it says about the purposes and plan of redemption, all of which is accomplished in the Lord Jesus. Then of course, it’s a great comfort to us as Christians because we look at it and we say it’s not according to our works. What he has done, he’s done by grace and as we’re united to Jesus, we receive that grace and we live in that grace and we grow in that grace.
I think the other thing that’s interesting to seeing Nancy, though is sometimes we can read that and think that because it’s so glorious, because it’s so comprehensive, that means this is gonna be easy. And the very thing that he opens with is join with me in suffering for the gospel so that this glorious message, if you embrace it, if you participate in it, if you benefit from it, it will mean suffering in your life and in your ministry because we are yet in this present darkness. So you’re correct. There’s just a lot that’s packed into those verses.
Guthrie: That before the ages began, that takes us into some deep theology. But it seems to me that if we can help people understand that it can really address some common misperceptions about the purposes and plans of God, can’t it?
Currie: Yeah. Right. Well, again, when we get into before the ages began, you’re kind of in Deuteronomy 29:29 territory, you know, the secret things belong to the Lord, the revealed things are for us and for our children, our children’s children. So whenever you’re dealing with the scriptures, there is always mystery. One way that I have put it in the past is God has told us all that we need to know and all that he wants us to know. He hasn’t told us all that he knows. There’s a distinction between the creator and the creature. So when he starts to show us and gives us glimpses into, before the ages began into his eternal decree, what we are required to do is to mine all that the scriptures give to us to say all that the scriptures say to us, but not to go beyond what the scripture say to us.
Guthrie: That’s the tricky part, isn’t it?
Currie: That’s right. Yeah. Remember, it’s the humility of the Christian and the creature that says, we submit ourselves to God’s revelation. We never stand over God’s revelation. So submitting ourselves to the scripture and allowing the scripture to be sufficient for us. God has told us all that we need to know. That doesn’t mean he’s told us all that he knows.
Guthrie: Would you use that to suggest to those you’re teaching that God’s plans for redemption through the cross were not a plan B after sin came into the world? Or is that doing what you’re talking about, about imposing too much into that?
Currie: No, I wouldn’t just suggest that. I’d make it very clear that God has purpose from eternity to give to his Son a people. And to send his Son into the world to save sinners so that the plan of God is certainly not plan B. He works all things according to the counsel of his will. You know that phrase, as you’ve pointed it out for us in that verse, it gives us access. It’s almost like a little icon that you click on to a whole, a thread of glorious biblical teaching on the sovereignty of God, on the purpose of God, on his eternal choice of his people and his accomplishing what he from eternity purpose to do.
Guthrie: Are there one or two resources that if a teacher’s listening to this and they think, “Oh, that’s getting into some deep waters that I’m not sure I’m equipped for,” are there one or two resources that you’d point someone to, to read about that?
Currie: You know what I would point people to is a book that helped me early in my Christian life when I was wrestling with this R. C. Sproul’s book Chosen by God. I think for a serious student of the Bible who wants to teach the Bible, I would refer people to that, is a really good introduction to the doctrine that we’re referring to, your doctrine of election and the purpose and plan of God. If you want one resource for the serious-minded person who wants to teach the Bible, I’d refer him to that.
Guthrie: Excellent. All right. In verse 12, Paul says, ”But I am not ashamed.” And that is kind of a repeated idea really throughout this whole book. Talk to us about that theme we keep seeing coming back through here.
Currie: Yeah. “Do not be ashamed,” it shows up a number of times here. It’s also akin to what he says in Romans 1:16, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel.” And I think it’s a couple of things going on. One, you have in that culture, Greco Roman culture, an unshamed culture. So the language of shame and being ashamed, not just don’t be afraid, I think is significant culturally. The fact that you see this show up in 1 Corinthians a lot. The fact that Paul suffered, the fact that he was in chains, the fact that he was not prosperous, that he had to work with his hands, in that culture was an indication of weakness and foolishness and failure. And so the fact that he is suffering and he’s in chains is not only suffering and difficulty and personal hardship, culturally, it was shameful. Just like the cross was a shame. The Jewish side is judgment from God and the Greek side is just weakness.
And so the whole cross-shaped pattern of ministry brought shame. Then perhaps you also keep it in the context that Timothy, one of the first things he says to Timothy is the Spirit’s not a spirit of fear. So Timothy may have been particularly tempted to be ashamed. What Paul is saying then is don’t capitulate to the shame culture and compromise the message. And, you know, I think there’s some particular relevance of that to us today. As the cultural conversation has moved, we see a lot of this in our culture where it’s sort of shame-based. Early in the year, David Brooks brought out this little article on the brutality of the call-out culture online and the way that we’re dealing with sort of moral codes in the culture today, there’s little conversation and dialogue. And essentially if you don’t agree, you’re some kind of deviant human being.
And I think particularly as we go forward as the doctrines and behavior of godliness is gonna result in a lot of shame and shun strategies from the world, and sometimes even from people that would surprise us within the church. And so I think this message of do not be ashamed is particularly relevant. It’s not just don’t be afraid. It’s don’t give in to the shame and shun-based culture because you’re standing for a sound doctrine or you’re standing for godly behavior. And so I think it’s particularly relevant in our day.
Guthrie: Oh, I can really see that. As we move into chapter 2, Paul uses two very vivid images to make his point. He talks about being, I’m in verse 3 of chapter 2, sharing the suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. And then in verse 5, an athlete, so I suppose he’s a good teacher, right? He’s drawing upon some images. Certainly, in Timothy’s day, they’ve got plenty of soldiers around them and they have these athletic games around those. So he’s drawing upon imagery. So tell us what can we do with that for our day or what is he using these images to communicate?
Currie: I think he’s communicating focus and discipline and the stewardship of the gospel. That you, you know, too often if we put it in contrast too often being set apart for ministry, being engaged in ministry sometimes can be seen as an easy lifestyle. Sometimes, we think and when we over spiritualize things, that discipline’s not required, hard work’s not required. And I think what Paul is showing Timothy is that just because you’re indwelt by the spirit, just because you set apart for this glorious gospel doesn’t mean you’re not gonna have to work hard at this. And so I think those images of a soldier and an athlete are reminding Timothy along with the language of suffering and be strengthened that he uses there. This is gonna be hard work.
And so you have to be focused. You have to be disciplined. That means you have to be a good steward of the resources God has given to you, if we might put it this way, your talents, your time, and the way that you engage that and focus that for the stewardship of the word. So I think what’s primarily behind those images at this point in the letter is Timothy, you’re going to have to be focused. You’re gonna have to be disciplined, don’t get distracted by the stuff that the rest of the world chases.
Guthrie: As we continue in chapter 2, we get to verses 11 through 13, it’s introduced this way ”For this saying is trustworthy.” And then if we’re looking at it on the page in our Bible, we realize it’s set off differently than the rest of the paragraphs. So help us understand what he’s doing here.
Currie: Yeah, I think Paul’s working with the saying that was common to them.
Guthrie: So it was like we would have certain sayings people say all the time and we might throw that into our teaching. He’s drawing upon a saying that they’re familiar with. Is that right?
Currie: Well, I think it’s difficult to reconstruct with certainty where it came from. Commentators will give you different possibilities and opinions on where it came from, but it looks like he’s working with some kind of catechetical material, some kind of teaching material that they were familiar with. So he’s referring to that to remind them of what is sound doctrine or accurate teaching.
Guthrie: And let’s read what this saying is for our listeners. He’s saying, “This saying is trustworthy for if we have died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself.” So why is he drawing upon this trustworthy statement? What does he hope to communicate to Timothy?
Currie: Well, I think he’s trying to communicate two things. If you look at the opening two phrases and then the last one, the focus really is on what God has done for us in Christ, his faithfulness. If we died with him, we will also live with him. Again, like the little icon you click on, that takes us to Roman 6 and opens up for us the fact that if we died with Christ, we will live with Christ and what Paul says there. And then I think towards the end, particularly in a context where the temptation is to be ashamed, the temptation is to deny. He’s trying to point them to the fact that what he said earlier in the letter, what we read earlier together, that glorious gospel, this is not dependent upon you. Your hope is not your faithfulness but his faithfulness. Now that said, he’s also giving a warning that if we deny him, he will also deny us.
Guthrie: Well, I think about teaching that and I think I’m a little bit afraid that it’s gonna inspire some fear in some of the people I’m teaching. Is that appropriate for you or?
Currie: I think it’s appropriate to inspire a warning. I think when we get these warnings in scripture, we need to take them seriously. You know, as the hymn writer gave it to us, the church will always have false sons in her pale. And until the return of Christ. And one of the things these warnings do is inspire Christians to greater faith, greater faithfulness, and warn those who might be what we would call false professors, that a false profession will not stand. I think the way you take a passage like this which says, if we deny him, he will deny us. You know, John tells us that they went out from amongst us because they were not of us. And if there’s outright persistent denial of Christ, it means you weren’t joined to Jesus. Even a warning like this before the return of Jesus can call a false professor to examine themselves and to turn and to trust Jesus.
So I think we need to take the warning seriously, but you can’t take the warning out of the context of the rest of the letter. And then the rest of the letter was as, again, as we just read, he said, it’s not by our works, it’s by his works, by his work for us is finished work. And so I think it should inspire us to be sober, particularly in a context where we are tempted to be fearful. But it should inspire us as Christians to look to Christ who is faithful and depending on him to be more faithful in our own walk and in our own commitment.
Guthrie: I can’t help but think about Peter in this context. And I wonder if he might be a good example to draw upon in that he did deny Jesus, but ultimately, he did not deny Jesus. You know, I think about some people we teach have such tender consciences and that they might say, “Oh, I did that that one time and have I committed this unpardonable sin.” But clearly, Peter had not.
Currie: think Peter’s a great example. The turning point, of course, in Peter’s story, if you look at it in Luke, is Peter steps up and does what he does, asserts that he’s gonna stand with the Lord. And he says, “You’re gonna deny me three times.” But the turning point is, but I have prayed for you, the turning point’s not Peter, the turning point is Christ and his work for Peter. So the reason Peter didn’t fall away, the reason Peter came back was because Jesus was for him at the cross and now before the father.
Guthrie: Well, that plays into what I was gonna ask you about verse 13. It’s an interesting flow to me because the first three statements there in verses 11 and 12 there, we’re kind of doing the same thing, right? If we died with him, we’ll live with him, endure will reign, deny, he will deny. But then this last one kind of has a different form, right? Because we’re not doing this same thing if we are faithless. Instead it’s, he remains faithful.
Currie: That’s right. And again, I think if you take it in the context of the letter, there’s so many times in the letter that Paul gives us his little summaries of the good news of the gospel like we looked at in chapter 1. They’re rich, glorious little packages of the gospel for teaching, but I think one thing to keep in mind is their pastoral function in the letter. They’re there to remind Timothy of the gospel for himself. Timothy needs to remember, this is Timothy, this is not about your power. This is not about your work. It’s not about ultimately your faithfulness, though faithful stewardship should be the aspiration of everybody who teaches the word. Ultimately, that you need to be strengthened by, what he says in chapter 2 verse 1, the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Well, how do you do that? You remember the gospel for you. So people who teach the Bible should not only be teaching the gospel, they should be remembering the gospel and living out of the gospel. And I think that little phrase, if we are faithless, he remains faithful as those who try to steward the word in the end and all the way through. It’s him, not us.
Guthrie: That is deeply encouraging because all of us have teachers have been faithless at times. So it’s good news to our hearts to know even when we are, he remains faithful and it’s his faithfulness ultimately that matters the most. As we continue to move through chapter 2, I can’t think of any more important verse for Bible teachers than 2 Timothy 2:15. And in fact, this one has something personally sweet to me. I just remember my mother writing this. I can’t remember if it was in my Bible or like on a card to me at graduation or something, and I can see it in my mother’s handwriting where she wrote out, do your best to present yourself to God as one approved as a worker who has no need to be ashamed. There’s that idea again, rightly handling the word of truth.
Now, I might think I know what it means to rightly handle the word of truth, but it seems like there’s lots of Bible teachers out there that might think they are, but they’re not. So maybe we don’t wanna impose our assumptions about what that means onto this verse. So can you help us with that? What does it mean to be a worker as one approved, no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth?
Currie: Well, I think anybody who is set apart for the ministry, who feels called to teach the word of God has to take this as something of a personal mission statement. This is your job, handle the word accurately. And I think that means at least three things. One, it means a rightly handling, it means handling it accurately. It means studying the scriptures to get at what the Holy Spirit inspired a particular text of scripture to mean. That means you have to get at the meaning of the words. You have to get at the meaning of the words in relationship to the other words. You have to get at the meaning of the text in its immediate context and its larger contexts. So it means careful analysis. It means patient study. It means not imposing your own interpretation on the scriptures. It means doing the hard work of asking the question, what do these words mean in the way they’d been written down in the text?
But then I think it also means not just in this text, but understanding, how do these words work? How does this text work? Where does it fit in the overall plan and purpose of God, what we would call redemptive history? Where does it fit in terms of God’s promise and fulfillment from Genesis to revelation? Because every time you’re interpreting the scripture, you’re not just interpreting words in isolation. This is the revelation of God’s plan of redemption in Jesus Christ for his people. So, particularly as you look at 2 Timothy in the pastorals, we’re dealing with the interesting of the apostolate gospel. So for Paul handling the word accurately meant Christ crucified according to the scriptures and raised according to the scriptures.
So accurate interpretation doesn’t just mean I get, if I could use this word, the exegesis of the passage correct. It means I have to get how this passage fits in the sweep of scripture correct. Where are we in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus? And then I think thirdly, it also means accurate application of the word because God’s word to his people is given to call them to faith and obedience, that they are to respond to him in Christ by believing and by following him. And so I think accurately handling the word also entails, once we’ve understood what does this passage mean in its context, how does this passage function in the gospel of Jesus Christ and then applying that faithfully to the hearers. So I think all of that’s involved in accurately rightly dividing the word of God.
Guthrie: You’ve been preaching a long time, you said since maybe 1990-ish. So I’m assuming maybe you look back and you can think of things you taught, ways you taught that you today wouldn’t teach that way. So I guess speak to us as Bible teachers in that a lot of us can have a lot of angst about getting it wrong in the past. And I suppose it’s because we do take this passage to heart. You said this should be our mission statement to rightly handle the word of truth. And so for anyone who has that mission statement and we look back at something where we didn’t quite rightly handle the word of truth, what would you say to us?
Currie: Well, maybe if I could be a little biographical and I get to the principle. You mentioned this a couple of things. You know, one, early on when I started, I did not understand or believe what we talked about earlier, that God had chosen his people from eternity past. And it was as I studied the scriptures in the way we’re just describing to teach the scriptures that the Lord opened up from the scriptures, the glorious truth of that gospel grace. And I had to shift in my teaching on that.
I think another thing that happened as I was in ministry, teaching through the Word, I think for many years I was what I would have called a Bible principles man. And I was able to accurately dissect the passage and give you principles for your life. But it took many years. And, in fact, my study at Westminster Seminary where I began to see Christ, I began to love Christ, I began to be able to preach Christ in ways I never had. So that was all a change.
And I think, again, I’d go back to say, you remember the gospel for the teacher? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to look back on past teaching and past teaching ministry and say, “Lord, not my righteousness, but the righteousness of my prophet, Christ Jesus. Not my righteousness, but the righteousness of him who always perfectly faithfully revealed you.” And so I think it’s the willingness to be taught by the Word, and it’s the willingness out of gospel shaped humility and confidence to change course, repent. And where necessary even say to those you’ve taught, “Listen, I got that wrong.” We are finite fallen creatures, the whole council of God will take us more than our whole life to get through. So I think the key is remaining teachable by the word that you’re teaching.
Guthrie: And I have found when I have said, you know what, I’ve gotten this wrong before. It’s almost as if people tune in a little closer. And I think they appreciate that, that we are all teachers in process. We are all learning this aim to be a worker who needs not to be ashamed. That’s a lifelong effort.
Currie: Amen. I think that’s right. Yeah.
Guthrie: As we continue to move through chapter 2, we get into verses 22, 23 and he is saying to Timothy, “Have nothing to do with foolish ignorant controversies that breed quarrels.” And we can’t help but think immediately about our modern day. We think about a whole of the controversies on social media. And so as teachers, we might want to immediately apply it to that. Is that an appropriate application?
Currie: I think it’s an appropriate application. I think it’s a secondary application. I think when we look at what Paul is talking about here, I think, again, it’s impossible to entirely reconstruct what he was dealing with, but it would seem that what was happening with the false teachers and emphasis was that they were using genealogies and Jewish myths to speculate about things eternal and metaphysical and that they…
Guthrie: How would they use a genealogy to speculate?
Currie: Well, again, I think it’s difficult to [crosstalk 00:34:56] you just got these statements, you know, about genealogies in the pastoral. So some of the other false teaching that they’re encountering in scripture we can try to reconstruct it from within the text from what we know of historical sources. What we do know is that there was kind of a speculative kind of theology going on and myth spinning that was happening humanly devised narratives that tried to interpret the world. And that’s why he talks about myths in a very negative way in the pastorals.
So I think the first thing is you apply it to creating your own speculations above the scriptures, around the scriptures and quarrelling with others based on your own opinions and your own speculations. But then I do think there’s a secondary application to what we experienced in our world. I might say this, and I think I have to qualify this and say I’m not somebody who’s on social media, but it seems to me that with all of the advantages that the digital platforms give us to get the word out, and I do believe that, I think that there are some distinct disadvantages. It seems that it’s difficult for tags and tweets to communicate substantive truth. It can be very hard, I think, to do the hard work of 2 Timothy 2:15 on a social media platform, which seems to be oftentimes more calculated for a shock and scandal or things like that than it does for reasoned discourse about things that can be complex and have a lot of gravity to them.
When we’re doing Bible teaching, the goal is not to like or dislike somebody’s opinion is to say, what does the Word of God say? And we can quarrel over I like it, I don’t like it. But the issue is, is this faithful to, is it submitted to the scriptures? And we can be doing a lot of quarreling over I share the opinion of this person or that opinion of that person. And really, our teachers should be all pointing us back to the scriptures.
Guthrie: As we move into chapter 3, the very first verse there has a term that may be when we teach it, people will hear different things. We read, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” This term, last days, how would you explain what’s being referred to here?
Currie: Yeah, I think it’s the age when God’s rule by his Spirit and his Son has broken in into the hearts and lives of believers. And it’s the kingdom of God now in our hearts and lives as those who are joined to Jesus. The last days broke in through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And in this present darkness, the consummation of God’s plan and kingdom yet awaits the return of the Lord Jesus. But in between the cross and the resurrection, we live in the last days when the rule of God by his spirit is present in the lives and hearts of those who were joined to Jesus, and when he comes again, it will be manifest to all. You see that in 2 Timothy 4:1-2 when he talks about Jesus coming with his kingdom and it’s appearing.
So I think when we look at the last days biblically, we don’t wanna push it into some period in the future. What we want to say is that is the prophetically promised age when God’s rule will break in on the kingdom of darkness and will be consummated when Christ returns.
Guthrie: So Paul and Timothy were living in the last days because it was after the death and resurrection of Jesus as we are, and it has less to do with some very short period of time right before Christ return then it does this whole, what’s been now 2000 years, correct?
Currie: Yeah. You said it much more succinctly than I did. That’s correct, yeah.
Guthrie: Right. That verse continues to give a list of what people will be like in this age, lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous without self-control, brutal, not loving, treach, oh my goodness. It just goes on and on. And most of us, I think, can find ourselves somewhere on this list. Most of the time, we’re probably teaching a group of believers. So when we’re teaching this, are we asking them to come put themselves up against this list and see these things in themselves? Or is this list talking more about people outside of Christ or both?
Currie: Yeah, well, I think it’s the world outside of Christ in this present darkness. Outside of Jesus, we’re all in it. And some of us manifest these vices and sins in more ways than others do. But what we have to realize as Christians is that we have been liberated in Jesus from the rule of darkness. But as John Owen put it, the embers of corruption still remain. And so we’re not free from the pull of darkness. And so I think the first wave, I was teaching this passage, I would use it the way I think Paul is pointing to, he’s saying this is the darkened culture outside of Christ. This is descriptive of the kingdom of darkness.
And so I think we realize this is the world in which we must minister the gospel. But because we are those who have been brought from darkness to light, we still feel the pull of that. And sometimes Christians, for seasons, get wrapped up in, be set by as the Puritans would put it, particular deeds of darkness. That’s why Paul in Ephesians 4 has to tell the church don’t behave like the Gentile world because they’re capable of behaving like the Gentile world. So I think you wanna teach this as though what he’s describing is the kingdom of darkness and the characteristics of the world in darkness. But we, while liberated from the rule of darkness are still affected by the pull of darkness and that we have to, when we see these sins in ourself, we have to repair to the gospel and repent and be renewed in Christ and turn away from these sins. So I think there’s applications to Christians, but I think the primary focus is this is the world in which you’re gonna have to do ministry.
Guthrie: Let’s look at verse 5. It’s closing out that list and it says, “Having the appearance of godliness but denying its power.”
Currie: Right. I think what he’s describing there particularly is the religious sham that characterize the false teachers Timothy had to deal with, where you’ve got this outward appearance of religiosity, but not the evidence of what Paul says to Timothy in his introduction that you have the Holy Spirit, so for love and self-discipline and not the spirit of fear. So what he’s pointing out here is the sin of hypocrisy. That if we deny him, he will also deny us, that kind of false professor category. Far too often we fall into sin. And hypocrisy is one of the sins into which we can fall. Christians can live for long seasons, sort of looking right, smelling right, walking right, but things aren’t right on the inside.
And when that happens, we need what Paul has talked about at the end of chapter 2, the Lord’s bondservant who is kind, patient, able to teach and brings to repentance even those who’ve been held captive by Satan to do his will. So I think with the list, Nancy, and even this hypocrisy, it’s not the Christians say, we could never do that. I think we need to say we far too often do all of it, but it’s not the dominating rule in our life. And we need teachers of the word. We need ministers of the word who teach us the word to bring us out of these things.
Guthrie: There is so much in this next section of chapter 3 that in fact if any of us have heard sermons from 2 Timothy, it’s probably been on these verses, verses 10 through 16. And people will recognize that these are the verses that lead up to the statement in verse 16, all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete equipped for every good work. So there was so much here, but let’s just focus on those two verses, verses 16 or 17. How should these verses shape our teaching?
Currie: Trust every Word of the Bible, teach every word of the Bible. That’s 3:16 the Bible is the word of God breathed out. It is inspired. It is inerrant, it’s infallible and it’s authoritative. And then chapter at the end of verse 16 and verse 17 says, ”It is sufficient to equip particularly the men of God for every work that God has called you to in the ministry.” So what you have in 3:16-17 is not only this glorious doctrine of the inspiration of scripture, and therefore, the authority and an errancy and trustworthiness of scripture, but it’s functional for ministry. It’s telling us the scripture is sufficient for everything that God’s called you to do. So I’d say trust every word of the Bible, teach every word of the Bible, teach as though it’s true, it’s authoritative and it is sufficient. It should give us confidence, not just for our faith, but for our ministry, that when we’re handling the word and we’re doing all the things we’ve talked about, that we’re doing exactly what God has called us to do, but also exactly what God uses to actually bring about his purpose in the world. So I think it gives us great confidence in the scriptures.
Guthrie: We read that it is profitable for teaching. Most of us are okay with that, for reproof. So maybe as some of us as teachers don’t like the idea that we would use it that way or even for correction. We like training for righteousness, but it’s interesting to me that there’s a challenge here to use it, that there is an appropriate role for reproof, correction.
Currie: Absolutely. Yeah. You know, I think when we look at repentance, if I can use that word, I’ve always said one of my early mentors gave me this thing. Repentance is a bittersweet thing. Repentance means I have to say I’m wrong, but repentance because this gospel repentance also says to the moral doesn’t have to look like today because of the grace of God. Keep the context in mind. Correction and reproof is in this context of this gospel ministry. It’s a good thing. Correction and reproof is one of the ways God’s gets us off the path of destruction to the path of life. So I think if a Bible teacher says, I get to have this ministry, even when it’s saying a hard words in love, I get to have this ministry of turning people from God dishonoring destructive behavior or belief to a God-glorifying lifegiving belief, then that ministry of correction actually becomes something that is a great privilege rather than something to be afraid of. But that said, there’s a reason you need the early parts of 2 Timothy as well, “God’s not given us a spirit of fear,” because that’s not an easy ministry. But it’s a life-giving ministry just like the rest of it is.
Guthrie: In Chapter 4, Paul writes that a time is going to come when people will not endure sound teaching, but will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. And I think that this perhaps is sobering to us on a couple of levels. It seems to warn us of the reality that some people may completely reject. We’ve done all of this work and we’ve tried to handle the word rightly and we believe we are in. We have to be prepared that some people are going to completely reject it, but does it also warn us against becoming one of those teachers who somehow just accommodate our audience’s desires for someone to teach what they want to here?
Currie: Yeah, sure. It does both, doesn’t it? And I think particularly in our culture, you know, what Paul is saying there is that what’s gonna happen in these last days is people will accumulate for themselves teachers who tell them what they want to hear based on what their desires already are. What I already believe, what I want, what I already believe who I am, I’m gonna actually stack up. They will accumulate. I will stack up people who will tell me exactly what I wanna hear. And you’re gonna have to do ministry in that kind of a context, Timothy and whoever’s teaching the word. And so the temptation is because I don’t wanna be ashamed because I don’t want to be shamed, I’m gonna accommodate just a little bit or I’m gonna market just a little bit.
And the temptation is to avoid suffering, to pursue success out of the fear of man. And this is a temptation for people that God has given a big platform or what we might call the ordinary pastor who just is trying to survive if not thrive in a local church, that if I just tweak the message a little, then people will be more satisfied. So yeah, it’s a warning that your job is always 2 Timothy 2:15, not tickling the ears of people who say, “Just tell me what I wanna hear and we’ll get along fine.”
Guthrie: I think we can’t underplay the challenge that this is to all of us. I can remember one time going and I was speaking at a women’s conference and I gave two messages and everybody loved me and they were with me. And then the third message was a message calling them to forgiveness. And I didn’t know that the church was in a big huge turmoil as I gave the message. And I mean, I visibly saw people turning away from me. And then afterwards, nobody wanted to talk to me. And I remember getting my car driving home and just thinking to myself, well, does this mean I shouldn’t be giving this message anymore? Like well no, that can’t be right. And it was just kind of a gut check for me driving home. It did cause me though to think through my message. Were there some ways in which I said that weren’t rightly handling it or that unnecessarily provoked some of those people? And I think maybe I did a couple of tweaks to it based on that. But I thought in general, I cannot avoid giving this hard message because actually that’s exactly what those people needed to hear.
Currie: Yeah, that’s right. One of the things I’d like to tell my students these days is not just because of the cultural moment we’re in actually Cotton Mather who wrote one of the early pastoral theology in the United States said this, is the first thing he said to his students. You gotta be prepared to die. And if you’re gonna handle the word in this present darkness, it’s a spiritual warfare in the hearts of people and in the world around you. I think one of the things this passage tells to us is, I mean, Paul’s headed to his death is that if you’re going to be a steward of the word, you have to be prepared to face social shame. You have to be prepared to suffer. Now, that as you rightly did, that shouldn’t be because you’re unkind. It shouldn’t be because you’re insensitive to the pastoral needs of the people you’re speaking to. It shouldn’t be because you just wanna talk about what you wanna talk about and you’re not really focusing your message on where the Lord has the people you’re speaking to. So as I heard somebody say before, we cannot buffer the offense of the cross. That doesn’t mean we have to be personally offensive. So I think it’s right to do that gut check, but in the end, you have to be prepared for the suffering that is teaching the word.
Guthrie: As we come to the end of 2 Timothy in chapter 4 beginning of verse 9, we get a sense that Paul is alone there in prison. It’s so tangible. He’s cold. He wants him to bring him his cloak. His execution is imminent, but it’s amazing that he’s still wanting to study the scriptures and says, “Bring me the parchments,” there in prison. Even as he is facing death, he’s still wanting to proclaim the gospel right where he is. He’s still forgiving those who deserted him right here at the lowest moment on his life. What would you do with these verses when you’re teaching people?
Currie: Yeah. I think one of the wonderful things that it teaches us is that being an apostle didn’t make them superhuman. So if the apostle wasn’t superhuman with all of the extraordinary gifts and unique gifts that he was given, we shouldn’t think as Bible teachers, pastors, preachers, that somehow being faithful means that you’ll be free from these kinds of sufferings. So I’m struck by the fact that he still suffered and the suffering was real suffering. He didn’t spiritualize it. It really, he was lonely. He was, yeah, he still needed the word of God written. Bring the books, bring especially the parchments. Paul still needed the word of God written.
And then the thing I love is Mark. You know, you’ve got that parting of Barnabas and Paul and I wonder if anywhere in church history or maybe it won’t be until glory we figure out who was right in this. But what you see is Mark’s still useful to them. And so the forgiveness, not only of those who have deserted him, but the restoration of Mark to ministry with the apostle after he parted from Barnabas. And I don’t think this guy can help us. I think that the very human ministry through in some ways, I wanna say an ordinary Christian, though he’s the apostle. He has to forgive. He has to restore. He feels the pain of the cold. He needs his books. I think maybe it’s instructive for all those who are called to teach the Bible, that you’re not called to be something less or different than a Christian who needs the Lord, who needs his word, who needs God’s people.
Guthrie: When we come to the end of teaching 2 Timothy, what do we hope has been the impact of this book on those we’ve been teaching?
Currie: Gospel courage for biblical fidelity in a darkening culture. I think what 2 Timothy gives to us is the realism that if you’re gonna be faithful, you’re gonna suffer, but the gospel’s sufficient, not just for your message, but for you. And the gospel realism that we’re in the last days and while we’ve been delivered from the kingdom of darkness, we’re still doing battle with the kingdom of darkness. And the sword is the word, the sword is the spirit. That’s gonna mean conflict. And so I think what you want to come out of 2 Timothy is not just the imperatives, not just the patterns of ministry, but the gospel strength for ministry. That’s what Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1, “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” And I think that’s pivotal. And so I think when you teach 2 Timothy, is not only what is the message you’re teaching, but what’s the message for you as a teacher and that gospel courage for biblical faithfulness in a darkening culture.
Guthrie: Dr. Currie, thank you so much for helping us teach the Bible and specifically this book of 2 Timothy.
Currie: It has been a great pleasure. Thanks so much.
Guthrie: You’ve been listening to Help Me Teach the Bible with Nancy Guthrie, a production of The Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not for profit publisher of the ESV Bible Christian books and tracks. Learn more about Crossway’s gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.