THE GOOD FIGHT 2 Timothy 3–4
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).How good to look back at the end of life and be satisfied with the way you lived.
Paul warned of growing godlessness (3:1–9) and of persecution awaiting those who live godly lives (vv. 10–13). Timothy was to trust the Scriptures (vv. 14–17) and fulfill his calling (4:1–5). Paul had lived this life, and was ready for his reward (vv. 6–8). Paul closed with personal remarks (vv. 9–22).
Understanding the Text
“A form of godliness but denying its power” 2 Tim. 3:1–5. The phrase “the last days” need not, but may, focus on the years just preceding Christ’s return. Here it seems better to see Paul’s remarks as directed to our own age, which has now extended over 1,900 years. Our times are perilous because of the distortion of true religion by those who have the outward form of religion, but who deny its power. What is the power of godliness that they deny? Why, it is the power to take sinful people and purge their character of the sins that Paul lists here! The power of true religion is seen in its transformation of the character of those who truly believe. “Have nothing to do with them” 2 Tim. 3:1–5. Paul listed 18 traits that mark individuals off as strangers to true religion. Look at the list, not to see how others measure up, but to see what God has done to transform you—and what He is committed to do for you in the future. Here is the list: 1. Selfish—a “lover of yourself.” 2. Materialistic—a lover of money. 3. Boastful. 4. Arrogant—contemptuous of others. 5. Abusive—slandering others. 6. Disobedient to parents. 7. Ungrateful. 8. Unholy—without relationship to God and living a purely secular life. 9. Unloving—lacking even normal affection for family. 10. Unforgiving—resisting reconciliation with others. 11. Slanderous—prone to falsely accusing others. 12. Without self-control—living in the grip of physical passions. 13. Brutal—savage and fierce. 14. Indifferent to good and drawn to evil. 15. Treacherous—without loyalty. 16. Rash, reckless. 17. Conceited. 18. Lovers of pleasure—putting themselves in the place of God as the center of their affections. “Their folly will be clear to everyone” 2 Tim. 3:6–9. It’s easy to appear religious. But when folks get to know us, they quickly realize whether our faith is a facade or real. Think how hard it is for an arrogant, ungrateful, unloving, treacherous, selfish individual to disguise those traits for long. And think how long before others learn whether we are responsive, grateful, loving, trustworthy, and caring persons. Only the complete fool can be long deceived. There’s a comforting thought here for us. As we experience God’s inner transformation, our character becomes more and more clear to those who know us. The very persons we are brings glory to God, and demonstrates the power of the Gospel. “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” 2 Tim. 3:10–17. It’s strange, perhaps, but the world isn’t really eager to welcome godly persons. We make it too uncomfortable for others. A young Christian friend, convinced that as a Christian he should work hard on his job, was persecuted unmercifully by his coworkers, who insisted he slack off as they did. His commitment to do an honest day’s work for his pay showed up their own laziness and indifference! When “evil men and impostors” become worse, the believer whose life exposes their character, becomes less and less popular. So what are we to do? Just what Paul told Timothy. “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” “You know those from whom you learned” 2 Tim. 3:13. We can picture the church as a long line of men and women holding hands, reaching from our own time back to the day of the Apostles. That “hand in hand” is important. I have often asked members of Christian groups to think of a person who had a strong, positive influence on their life. Then I’ve described opposing aspects of relationships. Was the relationship you had with the influential other more close, or distant? Was it more warm, or cool? Was communication one-way, or two-way? Did you feel that person knew you, or not? Did you know him or her, or not? Invariably over 90 percent of the group say they had a warm, close, relationship with the influential others, in which each talked and listened, and in which enough sharing took place that the two seemed to know each other. No wonder Paul said, “You know those from whom you learned.” Don’t be surprised at persecution from strangers. Just concentrate on building the intimate kind of relationship with others through which faith is most effectively shared. “All Scripture is God-breathed” 2 Tim. 3:16–17. I’m one of those old-fashioned types who is convinced that the Bible is God’s inspired Word: accurate, trustworthy, reliable in every sense. Perhaps you are too. But Paul merely introduced his theme by affirming Scripture’s inspiration. His point was that Scripture is useful! The more firmly you and I believe the Bible is the Word of God, the more faithfully we ought to apply it, relate its teachings to our lives, hear its rebukes, heed its correction, and thus let the Scripture equip us “for every good work.” “Keep your head in all situations” 2 Tim. 4:1–5. It’s not easy to be rejected and ignored. Right now one of my closest friends, who has pastored one church for over 25 years, is feeling the frustration Paul alluded to. Somehow his leadership now seems unwelcome. It’s not that the people have turned “their ears away from the truth.” Its just that, somehow, he seems much less effective than before. The work of ministry, whether engaged in as a profession, or as an expression of every believer’s faith, is both rewarding and discouraging. When discouragement comes it’s so easy to lose heart—and to fail to keep our heads. How do we respond? We do the work God has called us to do. For Timothy this was preaching the Word, in and out of season, correcting and rebuking and encouraging—and all with great patience and care. For us, ministry is exactly the same. We have the same Word to share, the same concern for others, that any professional pastor has. It isn’t necessary that everyone respond favorably to us as we serve them for Jesus’ sake. It is only necessary to “discharge all the duties of your ministry.” “To all who have longed for His appearing” 2 Tim. 4:6–8. Paul had known plenty of discouragement, and abundant persecution. But he looked back over his life with a sense of satisfaction. Through it all, Paul kept on serving. He fought a good fight. He ran a good race. He kept the faith. And now he looked forward to his reward. Paul wanted you and me to know that God has the same reward for you and me. We haven’t been turned aside by any rewards this world might offer, or by any threats men of the world might make. We have lived our life here aware that this earth is temporary, and all its pleasures are passing. We have yearned not for the things of earth, but for Jesus to return. And this longing has kept us, as it kept Paul, faithfully committed to whatever ministry God has given us. Don’t be downhearted, whatever discouragement may come. Even now the bands are gathering in heaven, and the parade is forming. Soon you’ll take your place in the open limo that leads the parade down heaven’s streets to the grandstand where rewards will be distributed. And then you’ll know, with Paul, that it was worth it all. “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength” 2 Tim. 4:9–18. We do need the support and encouragement of others. But sometimes we simply do not receive it. When others fail us, we have been given a great opportunity to experience the faithfulness of our God. He will stand by our side. He will give us strength. And He will rescue us “from every evil attack and will bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom.”
From Infancy(2 Tim. 4:10–17)
Our acceptance and nurture in the Scripture usually takes place in the context of some close, intimate relationship. That was definitely the case with Timothy, who came to know and love God’s Word early in life. We have no indication of just how Lois and Eunice shaped young Timothy’s faith. But we do have a list of rules followed by Susannah Wesley, mother of 19 children, including hymn writer Charles Wesley and the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Here are her “bylaws.” (1) Cowardness and fear of punishment often lead children into lying. To prevent this, a law was made, that whoever was charged with a fault, of which they were guilty, if they would ingenuously confess it, and promise to amend, should not be beaten. (2) That no sinful action, as lying, pilfering, playing at church, or on the Lord’s Day, disobedience, quarreling, etc., should ever pass unpunished. (3) That no child should ever be chided, or beat twice, for the same fault; and that if they amended, they should never be unbraided with it afterward. (4) That every . . . act of obedience should always be commended, and frequently rewarded, according to the merits of the cause. (5) That if any child performed an act of obedience, or did anything with an intention to please, though the performance was not well, yet the intention should be kindly accepted; and the child with sweetness directed how to do better in the future. (6) That propriety be inviolably preserved, and none suffered to invade the property of another in the smallest matter. (7) That promises be strictly observed; and a gift once bestowed, and so the right passed away from the donor not to be restored, but left to the disposal of him to whom it was given.
The best way to teach the Word to our children is to live it—and to see that it is lived.
“The religion of a child depends upon what its mother and its father are, and not on what they say.”—Henri Frederic Amiel