Like 1 Timothy, the letter of 2 Timothy was written to an individual, a young servant of Christ called Timothy. The writer of the letter, Paul, is imprisoned in Rome and various clues in the letter show that he does not expect to see Timothy again, even though he concludes the letter by asking Timothy to join him soon. Paul chooses his words carefully to encourage Timothy in the knowledge that he, Paul, may have been martyred by the time Timothy gets to Rome.
1. The importance of words
Paul could have opted for words of lamentation – complaining about his fate and expressing fear over what is to come. But he wants to provide Timothy with lasting encouragement. After confirming Timothy in his calling (2 Timothy 1:5-6), Paul reminds him to have courage, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). He makes a point of emphasizing that being imprisoned for spreading the Word of God was not unexpected (we know that Paul was arrested on at least three occasions, so it had happened before) and nothing to be ashamed of. Reading Paul’s words to Timothy, we, too, can draw strength from Paul’s confidence in Jesus Christ and his anticipation that he, Timothy, and we, will ultimately be in His safe hands (2 Timothy 1:12).
2. Words of wisdom
Like Paul, Christians in many parts of the world may experience imprisonment and persecution. Paul is mentally preparing Timothy for this possibility: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). Paul is very clear that there is a point to enduring such sufferings: it benefits the elect who will find faith as a result of his ministry, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” ( ). The words expressed in verses produce what Paul wrote to the Philippians several years earlier: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians.4:7).
Timothy, serving as a pastor in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), is also called to address his own choices in life; exchanging youthful passions with “righteousness, faith, love, and peace” () and distancing himself from iniquity ( ) so that he might be useful to God. These are choices that we, too, must consciously consider and for which we, too, can reflect on Paul’s examples in verses .
3. False words
In sharp contrast to Paul’s faithful servitude to God’s Word are the false teachers that he warns against, yet again. “Their talk will spread like gangrene,” he says in verse. False teachers ‘upset’ the faith of others ( ) and create conflicts ( ).
Sitting in his prison cell, it must have been particularly unsettling for Paul to contemplate that after all he had suffered for the Gospel during his lifetime, false teachers might attempt to undo the Good News among believers. “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (may yet turn to God ( ) – Timothy is to “avoid such people.”). Other than ministering to them in truth – as they
Paul wrote to Timothy about false teachers twice, so the issue obviously mattered greatly to him. Whereas modern Christians have the benefit of being able to pick up a Bible and read God’s Word in full, Timothy did not have this option.
4. Words for the 21st century
In Old Testament times, God often warned the people of Israel not to associate with pagan nations that worshiped idols. This was to prevent the Israelites from adopting these idols (Exodus 23:24; 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:2-4; 12:2-3) and departing from God’s will. Today, Christians need to be alert to a similar danger but this time, it comes from within: people who present as Christians, but seek to corrupt God’s truth with their own interpretations.
Paul tells both Timothy and us: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed […] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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” ().
Should we enable false teachers to entertain their ‘version of the truth’? Paul says: No! “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season [which means: whether it suits these individuals to whom we preach, or not]; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” ( ). Paul warns that false teachers will not want to hear, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but […] they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” ( ).
But – and this brings us back to the ‘importance of words’ mentioned earlier – having addressed these unsettling prospects, Paul concludes on a much more positive note: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (). This is something both Timothy and modern believers can take away from this letter!