Introduction to 2 Timothy

The Second Epistle To Timothy

This Epistle to Timothy is the admirable complement of the earlier communication. Men have discussed largely the interval between them; but even if it were briefer than many suppose, the change of circumstances and consequently of aim, treatment, and tone is immense: yet we know, from all scripture and from experience also, that great revolutions may occur within a little while. It is the last written word of the apostle, which imparts peculiar earnestness, gravity, and tenderness to all he has to say. No other form is so good for suitable exhortation, and this from one who was made “minister of the church” (Col. 1:24, 25) in a fuller sense than any other.

Order in the assembly, moral weight and worth in all, especially in those who govern or administer publicly, was urged in the First Epistle with the seriousness proper to the theme. Here the soon-departing apostle, whilst longing for Timothy’s presence (1 Tim. 1:4; 1 Tim. 4:9, 11, 13, 21), lays on the heart of his beloved fellow-labourer his final injunctions and personal call in view of deep and growing disorder. Such a ruin-state however (and it is incomparably worse now), he implies, would only give the better occasion to make manifest those who abide true to Christ and cleave to His grace in the midst of the prevailing generally-fatal declension which he could not but describe. It would furnish no doubt every facility for the flesh and the world in possession of the Lord’s name; but therefore all the more energy, endurance, and courage would be due to the Lord from the devoted and godly.

Hence the more than wonted sublimity and tender solicitude of the apostle, the remembrance of Timothy’s tears, the reminiscences of his conscientious fidelity in the past, the cordial recognition of real faith, even where the surroundings might be untoward. Hence too Paul reminds Timothy of that gift of God which was in him through the imposition of his own hands. He, therefore, was peculiarly required at so critical a moment to serve boldly in faith, conscious of that special grace which deigned to use him and to work by him to the glory of Christ. Indeed, peculiar as might be the power and place thus given to Timothy, it was in full accord with the character of the gift of the Holy Ghost to every Christian; for “God gave us not a spirit of fear (cowardice), but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” What all therefore have and should manifest, Timothy was to carry out in his own prominent position, and to suffer evils (hardship) with the gospel, hateful as it was to the pride and religiousness of the world which persecuted its heralds. How vain to endure thus except with and according to the power of God!

Hence, he of all men was not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of Paul His prisoner. To those who merely look on from a distance, to readers in a drawing-room or students in a library, such shame might seem impossible save for the most cowardly and base. But the enemy knows how to bring about a state of feeling, even among Christians, where it demands the most simple and steadfast faith to stand by those who-suffer for Christ and the gospel as Paul then did. This tide had been setting in for a long while and had now, as far as the apostle was concerned, arrived as its height. A thousand excuses might be made, a variety of seemingly good reasons might be pleaded, the result was that the mass of his brethren were ashamed of Paul! and, what was, if possible, sadder still, of the testimony of our Lord, which he takes care to place before himself, as they, doubtless, quite ignored and forgot it in the pressure of peril and disgrace.

And how deep though blessed is that testimony! an already possessed salvation from God, and a holy calling, “not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has been made manifest now by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who annulled death and brought to light life and incorruption through the gospel, whereunto I was appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher [of the Gentiles]”. It was for this cause Paul was also suffering these things. Never was there a more worthy reason. Certainly he was not ashamed: how terrible to think that any Christian could be! how humbling that even such as had once known Paul were! For if ever there was a servant whose life and labours, whose spirit, ways, and speech harmonized with the gospel, was it not Paul? Yet were brethren ashamed of the testimony of our Lord and of him His prisoner, when zeal and affection ought to have been most drawn out to him. Many a faithful servant proved utterly weak in the hour of trial; not a few were painfully inconsistent in detail, though sincere and honoured of God in the main. Paul stands well-nigh alone, according to his earnest expectation and hope that in nothing he should be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always so even to the end, Christ should be magnified in his body, whether by life, or by death (Phil. 1:20). Then it was his first imprisonment; and his desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better, was not yet to be gratified. To abide in the flesh was more needful for the saints; and, having this confidence, he knew that he was to abide and continue with all. Now it was his second imprisonment; and Christ was to be magnified by his death, but in nothing was he put to shame, least of all was he ashamed of the gospel or of the hardship in prison and in death which the gospel entailed.

With the gospel, with the testimony of our Lord in every part, with Christ Himself, was Paul bound up. He knew Him Whom he had believed and was persuaded of His ability to guard that which he had committed to Him against that day. Therefore did he exhort Timothy to have an outline of sound words which he had heard from him in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; and to keep, by the Holy Spirit Who dwelleth in us, the good thing that is entrusted.

This deposit refers to no unwritten tradition, nor to any humanly drawn up formula, but to the written word since Christ. It was the more important because Timothy knew how all in Asia (the Roman province where he had laboured so long and diligently) had turned away from Paul, not from Christ or the gospel, of course, but from him who had beyond all presented its distinctive and unadulterated truth, and who best represented its unwearied labours and its sufferings. And, if more than one brought such a pang to the apostle’s heart, how touchingly he recalls the faithfulness of one, Onesiphorus; for whose house he beseeches mercy of the Lord; “for he oft refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain, but when he was in Rome, he sought me diligently and found me (the Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day)”. It was indeed just in keeping with the habitual love of Onesiphorus where he ordinarily dwelt; for the apostle adds, “and in how many things he administered at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.” If we love the truth, we shall not fail in affection toward those that are identified with it. Party-zeal is the flesh’s parody of it. God will have love and faith to be a living reality here below; and, in the world as it is, one must increasingly suffer. But He will be sanctified in those that are nigh Him, ever noticing both what He values and what He hates.

The apostle (2 Tim. 2), calls his child to be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ, with relation to others, not only in holding the truth fast, but in transmitting it duly - a work no less delicate than important. “And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also”. The communication of the truth is here in question, not the conferring of authority as on elders and deacons locally. Faithful men were to be the objects of his care for these offices; but also they needed to be taught by such an one as Timothy, himself taught of the apostle, in order that they might be able to teach others. Here, too, the apostle summons him to take his share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus; for what things, within as well as without, demand greater self-denial or expose to greater trials? In three figures the apostle sets forth what is needed by those who would thus serve the Lord aright. “No soldier on service entangleth himself in the affairs of life, that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier.” The servant must make up his mind to refuse all distraction. Next, “if a man also contend in the games, he is not crowned except he have contended lawfully.” The manner in which he serves is of the highest moment and claims entire submission to the will of the Lord Who is served; so the athlete was bound by the rules of the games. Lastly, “the labouring husbandman must first partake of the fruits.” If love leads to toil, certainly labour must precede the fruits. All this the apostle would have Timothy to consider, and assures him of the Lord’s grace in giving understanding in all things. Faith should be intelligent.

From him that labours in teaching the transition is easy to the truth taught, and happily (for God thinks of the simplest) its sum is set forth in few but profound words, and in that one Person, Who is the object of our faith, the wonder of angels, the satisfying delight of God. “Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel.” It is not so that theologians would present it, nor even as had the prophets; it is as God would have the apostle impress Timothy and us. The historic order would have begun with His relation after the flesh, His Messianic position, the fulfilment as far as His Person went of promise and prophecy; but Paul’s gospel, which faithfully asserts this foundation truth, gave the emphasis to that resurrection from the dead which supposes the work of redemption already done and man in Him entered on the new estate according to God’s heavenly counsels. And this enlarges the character of Christ’s suffering, which above all the workman should not shirk, as the blessed apostle so deeply tasted of it in his gospel-service: “In which I suffer evil unto bonds as an evil-doer; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with everlasting glory. Faithful [is] the saying; for if we died with [Him], we shall also live with [Him]; if we endure, we shall also reign with [Him]; if we shall deny [Him], He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He abideth faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

On this Paul makes personal appeal to the end of the chapter that Timothy would not only urge truth fundamental and practical, but would avoid word-fights and profane babblings of even more destructive tendency, specifying the unholy dream of the resurrection so past as to make the present an enjoyable scene. Thus some of the fathers taught, and worldly religion prospered then as now.

This leads to a development as instructive in itself as it is characteristic of the Epistle. The false teaching is met by the apostle’s pointing out both sides of the seal as God’s sure foundation: [The] Lord knoweth those that are His; and, Let every one that nameth the name of [the] Lord depart from unrighteousness. Whatever come, the Lord is sovereign, and His confessor is responsible to Him. Here very suggestively the state of the church is anticipated: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some unto honour and some unto dishonour. If therefore one purge himself from these [the vessels to dishonour], he will be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work.” Zeal as a good workman, however, would not suffice. Timothy must flee youthful lusts (not carnal or worldly ones only), and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Isolation is never right as an object, though sin must never be sanctioned. But foolish questions must be eschewed, gentleness be cultivated, and not least in setting right opposers, if God might give them repentance and waking up from the devil’s snare for His will.

But in 2 Timothy 3 an awful picture is displayed: not merely some erring here and there, but a far more prevailing condition of decay where they could no longer be spoken of as disciples or faithful but as mere “men,” not of course heathen or Jews, but alas! calling themselves Christians, for they are said to have a form of piety but denying its power: the morally awful fact of men, with the external light and privileges of Christendom, no better at bottom though less gross than the heathen, whose picture is drawn by the same hand in the latter part of Rom. 1. They may and do loudly claim to be the church in unbroken succession; but the word is, “from these also turn away.” Doubtless all are not equally mischievous: there are weak victims, not without moral faults, and chiefs like those that withstood Moses. But Timothy had intimate familiarity with a life of godly and suffering and patient devotedness, as well as with truth in divinely given form and power; and all that would live godlily in Christ would suffer persecutions, as surely as evil men and impostors grow worse and worse.

Hence the inestimable value of those from whom Timothy had learned, and of the written word known by him from childhood. This gives the apostle the occasion to predicate of every scripture (be it Old or New Testament) qualities that constitute it the only abiding rule of faith, not only the fullest source, but the sole unfailing and perfect standard of truth. That they all were “God-inspired” implies this in one word to the mind that knows God.

Even then (2 Tim. 4) the apostle charges Timothy most solemnly before God and Jesus Christ Who shall judge quick and dead; and this therefore by His appearing and His kingdom, for here it is no question of heavenly grace, but of responsible service. and therefore a powerful motive to stimulate and strengthen his beloved child, both in preaching and in reproving, rebuking and exhorting, with all long-suffering and doctrine. For a time shall be when they will not hear sound doctrine, but according to their own lusts will heap teachers to themselves, having itching ears, and will turn away their ear from the truth and will have turned aside unto fables. This departure from the truth may not be the apostasy, nor the revelation of the man of sin; but it seems the worst development of the last days before that future crisis, and without doubt it has long since arrived. Yet more to impress Timothy, the apostle speaks of his own departure as a time close at hand. His course was run. He was awaiting the Lord’s appearing to crown him, and not him only but all who love His appearing.

With a variety of personal notices deeply interesting in many ways the letter closes. He would hasten Timothy’s joining him before winter, and it would seem that the sending of Tychicus to Ephesus may have been to facilitate this, Luke only being with the apostle. Of Demas’ departure he speaks with pain, of others simply as a fact. But he begs his cloak left at Troas, the books, and especially the parchments: death before his eyes in no way hinders duty, the Lord’s appearing demands it. A dangerous man is not forgotten; nor the fact that not one stood with him in the hour of danger, but the Lord did Who would do so to the end, preserving him for His heavenly kingdom. Salutation from himself and others follows, and the wish for His presence to be with Timothy’s spirit, Who had delivered him, and Whose grace he would have with them all.

The Exposition