STRONG IN GRACE 2 Timothy 1–2
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1).Paul exhibited a strength of commitment that Timothy—and we—are expected to imitate.
Most believe that Paul won release from the imprisonment mentioned at the end of Acts aboutA.D 62. He continued to minister, perhaps in Spain, but was rearrested in the mid-60s. A strong tradition indicates that Paul was executed in Rome during Nero’s reign, aboutA.D 68. Paul’s conviction that “the time has come for my departure” (4:6) suggests this letter was written during that final imprisonment. If so, what we have here are the last words of Paul: a “deathbed” blessing and exhortation directed to Timothy, but just as applicable to you and to me. All the wisdom and experience of Paul’s long life with his Lord are shared here for our profit and encouragement. So let’s take Paul’s words of advice to heart, and so live that when our time of departure nears, we too will be satisfied that we have “fought the good fight” (v. 7).
Paul expressed confidence in Timothy (1:1–7). He called on Timothy to be faithful to the Gospel (vv. 8–18) and transmit it accurately (2:1–2). Soldier (vv. 3–4), athlete (v. 5), and farmer (vv. 6–7) illustrate faithfulness to a faithful Lord (vv. 8–13). Ministry demands that one rightly handle God’s Word (vv. 14–19) and pursue righteousness (vv. 20–26).
Understanding the Text
“To Timothy, my dear son” 2 Tim. 1:1–2. It is significant that Paul called Timothy his beloved son. Paul would soon exhort this younger coworker to face and endure great hardships—something we hardly ever want for our children. Yet Paul knew the rewards of suffering for Christ’s sake. He wanted the best for Timothy—and he knew that the path to glory is often marked by hardship and suffering. We need to remember this in dealing with our own beloveds. We do them no favor by smoothing their way so much that they come to trust us rather than God. “Your sincere faith” 2 Tim. 1:3–7. Paul kept the delicate balance here between what others can do for us, and what we must do for ourselves. The spark of a parent’s faith can ignite our own. But we must fan it into flame (v. 6). “Join with me in suffering for the Gospel” 2 Tim. 1:8–11. It is amazing to me what people are willing to suffer for. Some are willing to suffer to reach a mountaintop. Some are willing to suffer to finish an “iron man” competition, that demands they swim 5 miles, bike over 100, and then run a full marathon. Others sacrifice home and family to make more money on a job that takes them constantly on the road. Paul asks us to suffer for something far more worthwhile. The Gospel is that stunning expression of God’s grace, revealed in Christ’s appearance, that announces God’s victory over death and invites every man to come to Him for “life and immortality.” Now that is something worth suffering for. No wonder Paul said he was “not ashamed” to testify about our Lord! “I know whom I have believed” 2 Tim. 1:12. Paul didn’t say, “I know what I have believed.” He said, “I know whom.” Our faith does have content, and that content is to be believed. But the foundation of faith is a personal relationship with God through Jesus. When we can say, with Paul, “I know Him,” we have the same complete confidence that Paul expressed: I “am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him [my very self!] for that day.” “The pattern of sound teaching” 2 Tim. 1:13–14. “Sound” here is hygiainonton, “healthy.” The teaching Paul gave had unique vitality: it is able to produce a spiritual healthiness that projects “faith and love in Christ Jesus.” There are two tests for sound doctrine. One is its correspondence with the teaching of the Apostles that is recorded in the Scriptures. The other is its power to produce faith and love in the one who holds it. We may hold orthodox doctrines without being loving persons. But if we are not loving, those doctrines clearly do not have a hold on us. “Everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me” 2 Tim. 1:15–18. “Asia” here means the Roman province, in what is now part of Turkey. Ephesus, where Paul spent some three years, was its leading city. How tragic then that “everyone” there turned away from Paul, even though perhaps we can understand why. Nero focused the existing hostility of the general populace against the Jews on the Christians. The arrest of both Peter and Paul, and their execution inA.D 68, suggests that it had become dangerous to be associated in the official mind with these Christian leaders. So perhaps fear motivated many to abandon Paul. But fear did not deter one man Paul had known in Ephesus: Onesiphorus. Rather than distance himself from Paul, Onesiphorus came to Rome and searched until he found Paul. He must have asked dozens of minor officials where Paul was—and been firmly linked to Paul in their minds. How fortunate Paul was to have at least one loyal and faithful friend. Such loyalty might bring us into danger in this world. But Paul was sure that Onesiphorus will “find mercy from the Lord on that day!” “Entrust to reliable men” 2 Tim. 2:1–2. Verse 2 is inscribed on the seal of the seminary that I attended. Truth is passed on from generation to generation by those gifted by God to instruct others in the meaning of what is now recorded in Scripture. Yet each of us is a transmitter, not only of truth, but of life. As Lois and Eunice, the grandmother and mother of Timothy, shared the spark of their faith with him, so each of us communicates the reality of our faith to those closest to us. “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier” 2 Tim. 2:3–4. Paul now gives us three images of Christian ministry. This ministry he wrote of is not just for the full-time Christian worker. These images fit the ministries of each of us—to family, to friends, to neighbors. The first image is military, and emphasizes disciplined commitment. We try to please our commanding officer. An easy life, distractions from our goal, these are all to be rejected. We’re to pick up our packs, and march through life as men and women on a mission. “If anyone competes as an athlete” 2 Tim. 2:5. In swimming, the course is carefully laid out. Stray from your lane, and you will be disqualified. The image of the athlete competing within the rules is another picture of full dedication. The soldier who wants to please his commander doesn’t get involved in civilian affairs (v. 4), and the athelete who wants to win doesn’t wander from his lane. “The hardworking farmer” 2 Tim. 2:6–7. The last image adds a new dimension to Paul’s analogies. The “hardworking farmer” has to be patient and wait to enjoy the fruit of his labor. He deserves a share of the crop. But the crop isn’t available when he plows the ground. The crop isn’t there when he plants the seed, or hoes the weeds, or even when he shoos birds away from the ripening grain. Like the soldier and athlete, we discipline ourselves to serve. And like the hardworking farmer, we discipline ourselves to wait patiently until the crop of righteousness we have planted ripens. But we wait confidently, for we know God is faithful. He will give us a larger share of the crop than our labors deserve. “Remember Jesus Christ” 2 Tim. 2:8–13. Remembering Jesus is what sustains us as we serve Him, waiting expectantly for rewards that seldom are granted here and now. The “trustworthy saying” Paul shares with us is likely drawn from the liturgy of the early church. It is a hymn or confession encouraging the faithful to look ahead, and take heart at the thought of Christ’s faithfulness. The faith even of the true believer may wane. But even “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” It is this absolute confidence in Jesus’ commitment to us that gives us the strength to live and die with Him, and to endure whatever comes. “Who correctly handles the Word of truth” 2 Tim. 2:14–19. Context helps us understand Paul’s intent. Scripture is not something to be debated. It is to be applied to deepen our faith in God, and to produce righteousness. This is God’s “solid foundation,” that no twisting of His Word can shake. While only the Lord can look into hearts, and know who belongs to Him, those who do belong will “turn away from wickedness” (v. 19). “Along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” 2 Tim. 2:22. Human beings have always been vulnerable to the influence of others. This is why Paul calls on us to “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with” others who share our commitment to Christ. We express concern over the peer group’s influence on our teens. But what we need to realize is that God’s plan is to use every person’s peer group in a positive way! This is why we have such a deep need for Christian fellowship. The encouragement of others is vital for our own pursuit of righteousness. “He must gently instruct” 2 Tim. 2:23–26. Other’s may “oppose” us. But in ministering to others we must always remember that we are on their side! We are not trying to win an argument, but to win a person who desperately needs to “come to [his] senses and escape from the trap of the devil.” Heated argument is the worst possible way to accomplish this task, and so Paul said that God’s servant “must not quarrel,” but “be kind to everyone” and “gently instruct.” We rely on love, and on the Spirit of God who is at work through us in others’ lives. If this is our outlook, we’ll be freed from that terrible urge to compete, and to “win” arguments at the cost of losing others’ souls.
Noble Purposes(2 Tim. 2:20–26)
The most common archeological find in biblical lands are pieces of broken pottery. When Paul spoke of many “articles” (KJV, “vessels”) found in every household, he meant the ceramic and wooden as well as the metal pots, bowls, and dishes that furnished first-century homes. But his reference to a “large house” and to gold and silver made it clear that he had in mind the home of a very wealthy person indeed. Of course, even the wealthy used the more common clay vessels for ordinary (“ignoble”) things. But, even as today we bring out the best china and the silver when guests come, the householder reserved his best vessels to use when an opportunity for “noble” use presented itself. Paul’s point was that in the church of Jesus everyone is a useful vessel. But some, perhaps because they have not dedicated themselves to a pursuit of righteousness (v. 22), or have not cleansed themselves of a hostile attitude (vv. 24–25), are fit only for the most ordinary tasks. What is exciting is that Paul suggested each us can become vessels suitable for God to use for the most noble purposes of all. If we will cleanse ourselves, and commit ourselves to holiness, you and I can be “useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
To be used, we must be useable.
“Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith, strengthen me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust You altogether. O Lord, help me. In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have. Therefore I will remain with You, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.”—Martin Luther