The Message of 2 Timothy
I. Salutation (1:1-2)
As usual, Paul wrote what he did in his salutation to set the tone for his emphasis in the rest of the epistle. There are only three minor particulars in which this salutation differs from the one in 1 Timothy. First, Paul attributed his calling as an apostle to “the will of God” rather than to the command of God. Second, he said his calling as an apostle was because of (in harmony with) “the promise of life in Christ Jesus.” Third, Paul referred to Timothy as his “dear son,” emphasizing the affection he felt for Timothy and his relationship to him as a spiritual son and protégé whom he had nurtured in the faith.¹
II. Thanksgiving for Faithful Fellow Workers (1:3-18)
Paul commended Timothy for his past faithfulness, charged him to remain loyal to his father in the faith, and cited examples of faithful and unfaithful servants of the Lord.
A. Timothy’s Past Faithfulness (1:3-7)
Paul began his first epistle to Timothy with thanks for his own salvation and ministry (1 Tim. 1:12). In this second epistle he began with thanks for Timothy’s salvation and ministry. Throughout this letter Paul looked to the past and ahead to the future, when he would no longer be alive. Paul regarded his own ministry as part of the continuation of God’s great ongoing plan of the ages. He was one of the faithful throughout history who have loyally served God sincerely. Paul had plenty of time to pray for Timothy since he was again in prison (2 Tim. 4:9, 16, 21). Evidently when they had parted last, Timothy had taken their separation very hard. A reunion would encourage Timothy as well as Paul.
The apostle rejoiced over Timothy’s genuine faith (1:5). His mother and grandmother had also demonstrated sterling faith in Christ. In view of the quality of Timothy’s faith Paul urged his younger friend not to neglect the use of his God-given abilities for the service of Christ. Timothy had received divine enablement to do the work into which God was leading him, but he had apparently held back from some ministry because of timidity. Paul reminded him that such a spirit is not from God, for He makes us spiritually powerful, loving and self-disciplined.
B. Charges to Remain Loyal (1:8-14)
Paul gave his young protégé exhortations to encourage him further to remain faithful to the Lord.
Exhortation to be courageous (1:8-12). In view of the Holy Spirit’s enablement just mentioned, Paul instructed Timothy not to let others intimidate him. Timothy had evidently felt tempted to demonstrate some sign of embarrassment with the gospel and with Paul, perhaps because he was in prison. The apostle reminded Timothy that he was in prison as Christ’s prisoner. Timothy should join his mentor in suffering for the gospel by proclaiming it boldly. God would empower him to stand tall by His grace. Paul enlarged on the glory of the gospel to rekindle a fresh appreciation of it in Timothy (1:9-11).² Paul proudly acknowledged that God had appointed him, of all people, a herald, an apostle, and a teacher of this good news. He was not ashamed of the gospel or of himself. God would protect him and his work.
Exhortation to guard the gospel (1:13-14). Timothy felt tempted to modify his message as well as to stop preaching it. Paul urged him, therefore, to continue to preach the same message he had heard from Paul and to do so with trust in God and love for people, which Jesus Christ would supply.
C. Examples of Faithful and Unfaithful Service (1:15-18)
To further impress on Timothy the need for him to remain faithful to his calling, Paul cited records of the ministries of other Christians who were mutual acquaintances.
The Christians in Ephesus and in the province of Asia where Ephesus stood had so thoroughly abandoned Paul that he could say all had turned from him. Timothy was the last to maintain his loyalty to and support of Paul among that group, and he was now facing temptation to abandon him. Phygellus and Hermogenes had been strong supporters of the apostle in the past but had eventually turned from him as the rest had done. However, Onesiphorus, who apparently was living in Ephesus when Paul wrote this epistle (4:19), was an exception to the majority. His whole family had diligently and unashamedly sought out Paul and had ministered to him during his current imprisonment. For this, Paul wished the Lord would show him mercy at the judgment seat of Christ (1:12). Onesiphorus’s example could encourage Timothy to remain faithful to his calling.
III. Exhortations to Persevere (Chapter 2)
Paul now became more pointed and charged Timothy to endure hardship and remain faithful.
A. Charge to Endure Hardship (2:1-13)
The apostle continued to encourage Timothy to remain faithful to his calling to motivate him to persevere in his ministry.
Timothy’s duty (2:1-7). Paul’s charge in verse 1 is general, and specific responsibilities follow. On the basis of what he had already written, Paul urged his son to continue to depend on God. God would then provide strength. As Paul had passed the torch of ministry on to Timothy, so now Timothy should do so to other men who gave evidence that they, too, would be faithful. Paul’s long ministry with Timothy had included many hardships, and as Timothy looked forward to training other young men he could expect more of the same. Paul urged him to submit to difficulties as a good soldier.
The apostle used three illusions to help Timothy appreciate the logical consistency of this exhortation. The first illustration is the soldier, and its point is that Timothy (and all believers) should remain free from entanglement with other lesser goals and activities while serving the Lord. The second illustration, the athlete, emphasizes the need to minister according to the rules God has prescribed. The illustration of the farmer, Paul’s third, stressed the toil necessary if one wants to enjoy the fruits of his labors. All three illustrations imply dogged persistence and hold out the prospect of reward for the faithful. Timothy needed to meditate on what Paul had just written, and as he did so the Lord would help him see the wisdom of his words.
The examples of Jesus and Paul (2:8-10). Paul proceeded to undergird his appeal to suffer hardship with the examples of Jesus (2:8) and himself (2:9-10). He urged Timothy to meditate on the greatest example of suffering hardship for a worthy purpose, namely, Jesus Christ. Paul, too, was willing to suffer hardship for the gospel. He had done so all his Christian life and was presently in prison because of it. Timothy needed to remember that the Word of God was just as powerful to change lives as ever, and even though its champion defender was in chains, Timothy should continue to proclaim it. Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, Paul was content to endure anything so long as the message went forth.
A popular saying (2:11-13). To urge timothy further to endure hardship, Paul cited a commonly accepted and used quotation that encouraged believes to remain faithful to their Christian profession (see also 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; Titus 3:8). It consists of four couplets, two positive and two negative. The first couplet (2 Tim. 2:11) is a comforting reminder that since the believer died with Christ (Col. 3:3), he has also experienced resurrection with Him to newness of life (Rom. 6:2-18). Second, if a believer endures suffering, he will one day reign with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12a). Third, if a believer departs from following Christ faithfully during his life, Christ will deny him at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Tim. 2:12b). He will lose some of his reward (1 Cor. 3:12-15; Luke 19:24-26), not his salvation. (Some say 2 Tim. 2:12b means that if a person professed to be saved but was not a genuine believer, he would be rejected by Christ). Fourth, if a believer is unfaithful to God, Christ will still remain faithful to him (2:13).
Christ’s faithfulness to us should motivate us to remain faithful to Him. We should remain faithful to the Lord, and endure hardship if necessary, in view of what Jesus Christ has done and will do.
B. Charge to Remain Faithful (2:14-26)
Paul developed the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord as another motivation for Timothy to persevere.
Faithfulness in public ministry (2:14-18). Timothy was to keep reminding his “reliable men” of the things Paul had just brought back to his own recollection. Furthermore he should warn them against emphasizing hair-splitting controversies in their ministries, since these do more harm than good. Positively, in contrast, Timothy should do his best to make sure that when he stood before God he would receive the Lord’s approval and not be ashamed. Most important in gaining this goal was the way he would proclaim God’s truth. The way a minister of the gospel presents the Word of God was of primary importance to Paul, and it should be to us. On the other hand, Timothy should turn away from meaningless discussions that characterize the world and that foster ungodliness. Paul cited concrete examples of two men whose verbal speculations were derailing other sincere Christians from the track of God’s truth (2:17-18).
Faithfulness in personal life (2:19-21). Even though some in the church were upsetting others and being upset themselves, the church itself had stood and would continue to stand firm. In the church there are individuals who honor the Lord as a result of their dedication to follow His truth, but there are also Christians who because of their lack of commitment to God’s truth bring dishonor on Him while they seek to be His instruments of His service. If someone avoids the defilement of this second group, he can be a member of the first group.
Summary applications (2:22-26). Paul urged Timothy to run away from the attractive desires that appeal especially to the young: the desire to argue, to develop a unique theology, to make a reputation for oneself by being doctrinally innovative, and sexual passions. In contrast, Timothy should pursue the goals of right behavior, faith in God, love for all people, and peace with his other committed believers. Participating in unwise and immature debates only generates arguments that prove divisive and reveal that the participant is ignorant. Such behavior is inappropriate for a servant of the Lord, who must promote peace and unity among believers. He must also gently correct the erring with a view to their restoration to correct doctrine and correct practice. Thus they may escape the devil’s trap and be able to do God’s will again.
Summary: In this second chapter, Paul compared the believer-minister to seven things: a son (2:1), a soldier (2:3), an athlete (2:5), a farmer (2:6), a laborer (2:15), a vessel (2:21), and a servant (2:24).
IV. Directions Concerning the Last Days (3:1 – 4:8)
Focusing on the last days in which Timothy and we serve the Lord, Paul outlined some characteristics, prescribed certain conduct, and explained his plans.
A. Characteristics of the Last Days (3:1-13)
Paul instructed Timothy concerning what God had revealed would take place in the last days to help him realize that he faced no unknown situation in Ephesus and to enable him to combat it intelligently.
Evidence of faithfulness (3:1-7). By the “last days” Paul meant the days preceding the Lord’s return for His own, the final days of the present age. He offered a list of nineteen specific characteristics of these days (see also Romans 1:29-31). Teachers manifesting some of the characteristics he just enumerated made a practice of gaining entrance into households in which the wives were spiritually weak. The false teachers captivated such women with their teaching.
Negative and positive illustrations (3:8-13). Paul mentioned the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses in the plagues (Exod. 7:11; 9:11) to illustrate the fate of these false teachers. Timothy’s past character and conduct stood in stark contrast to that of the false teachers. Timothy needed to realize that when a person determines to live a godly life he will suffer persecution. The wickedness of evil people and charlatans will increase as time passes.
B. Conduct in the Last Days (3:14-4:5)
Paul identified to of Timothy’s duties in the last days to impress him with what was of highest priority.
Adherence to the truth (3:14-17). In his personal life Timothy should continue living as he had rather than turning aside to follow the example of the evil men Pal had just mentioned. Timothy’s convictions had grown stronger because Paul’s life had backed up the truth that Timothy had learned from him, and they were consistent with the sacred Scriptures he had known all his life. All Scripture is divinely inspired. This fact in itself should be adequate reason for proclaiming it. Scripture is useful, so Timothy should use it in his ministry. It is profitable for teaching (causing others to understand God’s truth) and reproof (bringing conviction of error when there has been deviation from the truth). It is helpful for correction (bringing restoration to the truth when there has been error) and training in righteousness (child-training type guidance in the ways of right living that God’s truth reveals). Thus in God’s Word, God’s servants have all that is essential to fulfill their ministry.
Proclamation of the truth (4:1-5). Paul wanted Timothy to proclaim the truth in his public ministry as well as to adhere to it in his personal life. He reminded Timothy that God was watching him, as was Jesus Christ, who will judge all men and reign eventually. So Timothy needed to herald the Word of God (4:2) and faithfully carry out the ministry God had given him (4:5). This was important because in the future people would not tolerate the truth but would listen only to speakers who told them what they wanted to hear, and they would believe myths rather than the truth. So Timothy needed to keep alert by avoiding false teaching.
C. Paul’s Role in the Last Days (4:6-8)
Paul believed that he would die very soon. His life was presently being “poured out” as a sacrifice to God like the daily drink offerings in Judaism, and soon there would be nothing left. He was getting ready to depart this earth, as a traveler leaves one country for another. Paul had run in the most noble race of all, namely, the ministry of the gospel. Because he had been faithful, Paul did not dread dying but looked forward to seeing his Lord. On the day of rewards for Christians Paul was confident that the Lord would give him a reward that was proper. Paul spoke of his death in order to further impress on Timothy the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord.
Faithfulness in our walk with the Lord and in our service for Him is the most important quality. It enables us to face death courageously.
V. Concluding Personal Instructions and Information (4:9-22)
Paul concluded his last inspired epistle by giving Timothy personal instructions and information to enable him to carry out the apostle’s last wishes.
A. Fellow Workers and an Opponent (4:9-15)
Paul urged Timothy to join him in Rome soon because he did not expect to live much longer. Demas, Paul’s fellow worker, had succumbed to the allurements of the world. Crescens had left Paul and had gone to Galatia and Titus had gone to Dalmatia. Luke was Paul’s only companion. Timothy was to pick up Mark (Acts 15:36-40) and bring him with him because Paul believed Mark could be useful to him. Tychicus had gone to Ephesus. Timothy should also bring Paul a certain cloak, perhaps for his comfort as colder weather set in, certain unidentified books, and especially “the parchments,” copies of Scripture. Timothy should also beware of Alexander, an enemy of the gospel.
B. Paul’s Preliminary Hearing in Court (4:16-18)
It was customary under Roman law for accused prisoners to have a preliminary hearing before their trial. At this hearing, witnesses could speak on behalf of the accused. In Paul’s case no one had come to his defense. Paul hoped the Lord would not hold their failure against them. The Lord, however, had not abandoned His faithful servant on that occasion but had strengthened Paul. Evidently Paul was able to give a word of witness at his hearing that furthered his mission to the Gentiles. He had so far escaped death, though he was ready to die and knew he would die a martyr’s death (4:6-8), but he saw death as God’s vehicle to deliver him from an evil deed (his execution) and to bring him into his Lord’s presence. For this prospect he glorified God.
C. Additional Greetings and Instructions (4:19-21)
Paul sent greetings to his old friends and news of other associates to Timothy. Winter severely restricted travel in some parts of the Roman world. Timothy needed to leave Ephesus soon so he could reach Rome without undue difficulty. Paul relayed the greetings of four others, probably local, whom Timothy evidently knew, as well as the greetings of all the local Christians.
D. Benediction (4:22)
In conclusion Paul wished the Lord’s ministry of grace on Timothy’s spirit (to encourage him to remain faithful) and on all the readers of this epistle.
1. Paul mentioned Timothy in all of his inspired epistles except Galatians, Ephesians, and Titus.
2. This is one of the seven so-called liturgical passages in the Pastoral Epistles, all of which expound the essentials of salvation (1 Tim.1:15; 2:5-6; 3:16; 2 Tim. 1:9-11; 2:8-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:3-7).
Excerpted with permission. From Nelson’s New Testament Survey (formerly The New Testament Explorer), by Drs. Mark Bailey and Tom Constable.
About the Contributors
Mark L. Bailey
Dr. Bailey assumed the role of DTS Chancellor after serving for 19 years as the Seminary’s fifth President, and continues his role as Sr. Professor in the Bible Exposition department. In addition to his years at Dallas Theological Seminary, he has pastored various churches in Arizona and Texas. He was a seminar instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for twenty years and is in demand for Bible conferences and other preaching engagements all over the country and world. His overseas ministries have included Venezuela, Argentina, Hungary, and China. He is also a regular tour leader in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Rome. His board service includes Bible Study Fellowship, Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, and Word of Life.