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In order to clarify who is a “widow in need,” Paul provides a description of a widow who is worthy of support (5:9-14). To a very large extent Paul’s description of a “proper widow” is consistent with wisdom literature (Prov 31, Ruth, perhaps also Judith).
She is not less than sixty years of age. Unlike the modern world, the age of sixty is quite old in the first century. No one really knows why Paul chose this number, Roman law used fifty as the definition of a widow who should be supported by public funds. It is possible Paul has in mind Lev. 27:7 which makes a distinction for vows after age 60.
She was a faithful wife, “the wife of one husband.” The phrase here cannot mean, “only married once” since Paul is telling younger widows to remarry. Potentially they could be widowed a second time and find protection in the church.
She has a “reputation for good works.” The woman is “well known” in the Christian community for living the sort of life that reflects her faith. Perhaps an example of this might be Tabitha / Dorcas in Acts 9:36, she was “always doing good and helping the poor.” Paul expands “good works” with four brief statements on what these good works might include.
She has brought up children. On a practical level, this distinguishes the “proper widow” from the young widow in the next paragraph. This women was faithfully married and has already raised a family.
She has shown hospitality. Proper hospitality is considered a virtue in the ancient world and was one of the criteria for an elder in 1 Tim 3:2. In fact, the letter of 3 John concerns proper hospitality towards traveling teachers in Ephesus.
She has washed the feet of the saints. Of the four phrases, this is the most difficult, although it may be related to showing proper hospitality. Rather that participating in the ritual of foot washing in the church, Paul is thinking of one element of showing proper hospitality in her home.
She has cared for the afflicted. To care for the poor is part of being a virtuous person in Judaism, and there is ample evidence that Greco-Roman women often participated in charity work. It is possible that Paul has in mind people who are facing persecution, but helping the poor is likely the main point.
She has devoted herself to every good work. This last line of the description returns to the idea of good works. To be “devoted” (ἐπακολουθέω) means something like “model oneself after.” 1 Peter 1:21 uses the word for following in Jesus; footsteps; here the widow has followed after good works, modeling her life after the sorts of things demonstrate her faith in a tangible way.
Does this list mean that Paul would not support an older widow who did not have this kind of a reputation? I doubt that Paul intended for the church to let lazy widows die of starvation! Jesus did not demand that people become perfect before he would talk with them or heal them. This description is the ideal, like the Proverbs 31 woman. In describing the ideal, Paul may be encouraging women in the congregation to aspire to this sort of a reputation. Paul sets up a definition of a “widow who is in need.” She does not have a family to care for her or other means of support (a managed dowry), she has already raised a family and is unlikely to remarry.
In Paul’s view, the church ought to care for people who cannot care for themselves or have no other means of support. The problem with a section of scripture like this is that it is very difficult to apply since the cultural situation has changed radically over church history.
The church must care for genuine needs of the poor and needy. Caring for the widow, orphan, refugee, etc. has always been an important ministry of the church. This care for the needy is found throughout the Hebrew Bible, the teaching of Jesus and the ministry of Paul and the other apostles. The early church excelled in caring for people that society would not. There are many sad examples of abuse of the system in history, both from the church and from the poor, but these tragedies ought not deter the church from their responsibility to care for those in need.
The church must be wary of people who want to avoid responsibility. The reason Paul works at defining a “proper widow” is that the church resources are limited. If there is no standard, then the limited resources will be stretched thin and genuine needs will be overlooked.
To neglect this responsibility is a shame on the church in the community. One of the greatest condemnations of the church by the world is that we spend too much money on our beautiful buildings and nothing on “real ministry.”
One of the problems for reading the Pastoral Epistles is the identity of the “opponents” in Paul’s churches. Paul seems to have a group of elders in mind who are in rebellion against his Gospel, What is more, the opponents in Ephesus are like the people predicted to come in the “later days.” Jesus also described false messiahs and prophets who would come claiming to be messengers from God. First and Second John both describe teachers with wrong views about Jesus as “antichrist.”
The idea that the “last days” have arrived in common in the New Testament, the earliest church believed that Jesus could return at any moment. In this they were correct. In 2 Thess 2 Paul teaches that in the last days there will be an apostasy, a falling away from the truth. In the last days, this falling away will be so intense that people will choose to believe the Man of Lawlessness, the Anti-Christ, rather than the truth of the gospel. Did Paul actually believe that he was living in the last days? I think that he did, but every generation of the church have had at least some people who thought they were in the last days!
But this text cannot be directly applied to any particular modern false teaching in order to declare that we are “in the end times.” Certainly Jesus can come back at any moment, and there are plenty of people teaching all sorts of things in the name of Jesus that are simply not in line with the truth. But that is the condition of all of church history!
Paul describes the opponents in Ephesus as sub-Christian. They have Christian like ideas, but when examined in the light of the truth they are in fact not Christian at all. Paul is not dealing with a group of people who have a honest difference of opinion on a theological issue. His opponents in Ephesus have rejected key elements of the gospel which separate them from the truth.
They have abandoned their faith. The verb Paul uses here (ἀφίστημι) is the same as 2 Thess 2, but also Acts 5:37 to describe a messianic pretender who led crowds astray. In Deut 7:4 it is used for turning away from God to worship other gods. These opponents have rejected the core truth of the Gospel (1 Tim 3:16) and can no longer be described as within the faith.
They follow “deceitful spirits” and hold to the “teachings of demons.” This seems like a strong polemic, the sort of thing that we would not say about an opponent today. But there are a number of Pauline texts that describe real spiritual warfare. In 1 Tim 3:6-7, for example, Paul warns that a leader in the church ought not be a recent convert, since it is possible for him to become prideful and fall into the devil’s snare.
They are hypocritical liars. Combining hypocritical and liar indicates that their teaching appears to be well-intended, but it is in fact false. This indicates that the opponents are not simply fooled into teaching something that is false, they are choosing to maintain a lie for some reason (Towner, The Pastoral Epistles, 291).
Their conscience has been seared with a hot iron. There are two ways to read this line. First the phrase may refer to someone who has told a lie so many times that they believe it, that there conscience no longer functions as it ought. They are numb to the truth, etc. Second, it is possible that this refers to being branded. The verb (καυστηριάζω) can mean sear, but it can also refer to branding someone with a hot iron. “The imagery suggests crime published with a branding mark on the perpetrator” (BDAG). In either case, their conscience has been destroyed by the “doctrine of demons” that they no longer know if they are teaching the truth or not.
I am not sure it is possible to identify the opponents from these four items alone. What is certain is that there are people in Paul’s churches in Ephesus who have defected from the Gospel in such a way that the are not Christians at all. Timothy is warned about these people and told to appoint elders who cling tenaciously to the gospel and are truly godly.
Despite his certain execution, Paul knows that he has been faithful to his calling from God. Paul describes himself as already “being poured out like a drink offering.” This is a particularly vivid image that anyone in the ancient world would understand.
The verb is a single word (σπένδω) usually translated as the phrase “poured out like a drink offering.” This refers to pouring wine (or water) onto the altar as the main sacrifice was being burned. In Num 15:24, for example, a sacrifice is a “pleasing aroma to the Lord” and is accompanied by an offering of wine and grain as well. A drink offering is never the main sacrifice, it is one that is given along with the main sacrifice.
Paul used this same word in Phil 2:17 in a similar context, he refers to his life as a kind of sacrifice that accompanies the “main sacrifice.” In Philippians 2:17, the main sacrifice is the faith of the Philippian church. Here in 2 Tim 4:6 Paul does not specify the main offering. Perhaps he is thinking of Jesus as the main sacrifice for sin, and the martyrdom of the believer as that which accompanies the main sacrifice.
He uses three metaphors to describe his faithfulness to his commission. In each of these three lines Paul emphasizes the object, “the fight, I fought, the race, I finished, the faith, I kept.”
The phrase “fought the good fight” is common in contemporary English, but usually it refers to making a very good effort. But the adjective “good” modifies the noun, so it is a “good fight.” Paul’s point is that is life was like a long boxing match, but the reason for the fight was good and anyone who takes up that fight after he departs will also be “fighting a good fight.” It is the task to which Paul was called was good, as opposed to the false teachers who also fight (about words, etc.). They are “fighting the pointless fight.”
The second metaphor is also sports-related. Paul has “finished the race.” Looking ahead at the end of this section, Paul knows that he has competed well and will have his reward when he stands before the judge.
Third, looking back on his ministry, Paul can say that he has “kept the faith.” This ought to understood of what the “faith” means in 2 Timothy. He has not qualified or compromised his doctrine in the face of persecution.
Paul was prepared to preach his gospel whenever and wherever he was called, he was ultimately committed to “discharge the duties of a minister of the gospel.” Even in his death, Paul is setting himself up for Timothy as an example. Being faithful to the Gospel is dangerous and may very well put Timothy in same sort of imprisonment Paul is facing at this moment.
In fact, Paul has already been “rescued from the lion’s mouth,” despite no one coming to his defense (vv. 16-17). The “earlier defense” could refer to the end of the book of Acts, Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. But Paul seems to be referring to more recent events, so it is likely that he has in mind a preliminary trial after his second arrest in Rome, perhaps just after the Fire of Rome.
The reference to being saved from the “mouth of the lions” could be literal, but if it is it means that he was not thrown to the lions when he might have been. It is not the case that he was in the arena about to be killed and somehow he was rescued. Think of this as someone who is acquitted from a capital offense “escaping the hangman’s noose.” The important fact is that God rescued him despite the fact that no human came to his defense.
Finally, Paul looks forward to standing before his Lord “in that Day. ”The “day” refers to the moment when Paul stands before the judgment seat of Christ and receives a victor’s crown. That he is “in Christ” qualifies him to stand there, not the fact that he ran the race well or that he finished the race to which he was called
Paul will receive a “crown of righteousness.” This is the natural metaphor that follows from the use of a race or a boxing match a few lines before. But is this righteousness a description of the crown, or is righteousness itself the reward? Typically we focus on justification as righteousness given to the believer in Christ at the moment of salvation, in other texts Paul looks at our ultimate justification (being made righteous) at the resurrection (Gal 5:5).
Paul’s final words to Timothy and to us focus on the Gospel – we ought to continue in our calling to stand on the foundation of Scripture and clearly proclaim the gospel. This is the “good fight” to which we have all been called.
Paul knows that in the very near future there the churches he has founded will not want to “endure sound teaching.” But the word“endure” sounds as if we have sit through long and unpleasant sermons!
The verb Paul uses (ἀνέχω) can have the sense of enduring something that is onerous or difficulty, such as persecution (2 Thess 1:4; 1 Cor 4:12), and in one instance it is used for accepting a legal complaint (Acts 18:14), something like “pleading guilty.”
In the context of Timothy’s commission to preach the word and exhort everyone to godly living, perhaps the sense of “accept a legal complaint” is what Paul has in mind. Rather telling all Christians that they must endure long and boring sermons, Paul means that the opponents will refuse to accept healthy teaching because it is an indictment against them. They cannot stand to hear it because it points to their own shortcomings spiritually.
Paul once again describes good doctrine as “healthy” (1 Tim1:10; Titus 1:9, 2:1; using the participle of the verb ὑγιαίνω as an adjective). People are craving teaching that is like “junk food,” it might make you feel good in the short term, but in the long run it will make you unhealthy and perhaps even kill you!
The time is coming, Paul warns, when people will want to hear things that their “itching ears” want to hear. These people will ignore the truth, wandering off into myths. This verb (κνήθω) only appears here in the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament. “The participial phrase probably means “in order to have their ears tickled” (EDNT 301; the word appears in Plato for literal scratching of an itch (Philebus 46c, 51d).
Even in English we use the word “itch” for some desire that we need to satisfy. Applied to the preaching of the Word of God, it implies that these people will want to hear the Scripture taught, but they will want to hear things that make them feel good, things that “satisfy their itch.” In the context, this is esoteric teaching, teaching that is more interested in dark secrets of “conspiracy theories” rather than the plain (and convicting) Word of God.
This is a very convicting text, and one that is very applicable to modern church experience. There are many people (myself included) that like a particular sermon (or preacher) because the “get something out of it.” It says something that they want to hear, or maybe something that they already believe. I love it when a preacher says something that I already agree with because it confirms my thinking.
As a college teacher, I am always amazed how often students do not want to confront new ideas. They want to know that the things their Jr.High youth leader taught them were true. On the other hand, as a college teacher it is very easy for me to present strange and esoteric things in class. Saying “mimetic” and “intertextual” makes you sound smarter, right?
In every church, there is a set of vocabulary or a few key doctrines that pastors are required to trot out from time to time to keep people in the church happy and to give the appearance that they are still teaching “healthy doctrine.” This might be a good doctrine, a solid teaching; but it also might be a particular social position, or political idea.
But my guess is that Paul often taught the Scripture in a way that made people squirm. It made them uncomfortable to be told that God is their father and he expects them to be honorable children in the household of God. It is far easier if God would just give me a list of items I can achieve or rules I can keep. I am certain that Jesus’ teaching made people very uncomfortable; he confronted people directly over their hypocrisy.
Why is it that we (Christians) do not want to be made uncomfortable when the Word is preached?
The opponents in Ephesus stand in contrast to Paul’s record of suffering (v. 13) It is Paul and Timothy’s opponents who are the imposters. The noun (γόης) Paul uses here is a common way to describe an opponent in a philosophical debate. The noun originally referred to a sorcerer (T.Sol 19:3 uses it for a witch, Hdt, Hist. 7.791.2 for magicians, sometimes it refers to a “juggler,” [Aeschines, Ctes. 137], presumably because they do some sort of distracting act while they pick the pockets of the crowd.). By the first century it was used to describe a swindler, a con-man who uses some kind of deception to gain a profit from his audience. I think of the character from old Western movies, the “snake oil salesman.” The Greek writer Demosthenes uses the word with this sense: “for fear I should mislead and deceive you, calling me an artful speaker, a mountebank, an impostor, and so forth” (Dem., 18 276).
Ironically, these deceivers succeed in deceiving themselves! This is also a common way of describing sophists and charlatans in Greco-Roman world (Dio Chrysostom, Orations, 4.33). The way to avoid these sorts of people is proper “divine” education (4.29).
Dio Chrysostom, Orations 4.33 If, however, he falls in with some ignorant and charlatan sophist, the fellow will wear him out by leading him hither and thither, dragging him now to the east and now to the west and now to the south, not knowing anything himself but merely guessing, after having been led far afield himself long before by impostors like himself.
Similarly, the way to avoid the self-deceptive teaching of the opponents in Ephesus is to devote oneself to divine teaching through the Scripture which has been given by God.
Paul encourages Timothy to “continue in what he has learned” from the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Timothy was trained in the scripture from a young age. Jewish family, reading the Old Testament in Greek (most likely). While the opponents are progressing into more esoteric “deep” knowledge, Timothy is told to remain where he is. He has already learned the truth and has been convinced that it is the truth. There is no need for him to dabble in the “myths and genealogies” of the opponents.
The Jews regularly referred to their scriptures as “sacred writings,” Paul can only have in mind here the Old Testament. At this point in history it is unlikely that the Gospels were circulating as Scripture, perhaps Paul’s churches cherished his letters as authoritative. But the New Testament as we know it simply does not exist yet!
Paul says that Timothy was “raised on the Old Testament.” We know that his mother was Jewish and it is likely that he was taught the Old Testament, perhaps having some training in the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible in a synagogue. I doubt that Paul selected Timothy as a missionary companion if he was totally ignorant of the Bible prior to coming to faith in Jesus!
The remedy for self-deception, for Paul, is an absolute reliance on the Scripture for faith and practice. While the opponents in Ephesus pursue fruitless “myths and genealogies” Timothy is to remember what the Scriptures plainly teach and pursue righteousness. I suspect if people actually read the Bible, they would not tolerate the sorts of “teaching” that passes for popular Christian preaching!
In contrast to the false teachers, Paul lists his own suffering as an example of what will happen to anyone that wants to live a godly life (vv. 10-12). This is somewhat surprising for contemporary Christians who are fed a steady diet of “health and wealth” gospel – if you are really spiritual and doing everything God requires, you will be blessed, you will be happy, healthy and wealthy. That is the exact opposite of Paul’s point in this passage. Paul knows that his Gospel is the truth because he has suffered physically as a result of his preaching of Jesus.
It might seem odd, but Paul recalls his first missionary journey as an example of his suffering. He specifically has in mind the persecution he faced in Asia Minor (Acts 14). In Antioch, Paul is opposed by Jews from the Synagogue, who follow him to Iconium to harass him. Paul was attacked in Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). Perhaps these persecutions were chosen because he was “left for dead,” or perhaps this period continued to haunt him in his ministry for some time.
While that physical attack was important, Paul has in mind the constant treat from the Jewish community throughout that first journey as well as the threats to his churches reflected in the book of Galatians. The attack on Paul’s character reflected in Paul’s early letters may have been more painful than the physical pain he faced in Lystra. It appears that some of Paul’s opponents described him as unqualified to preach the gospel (Gal 1) or worse, as a charlatan (1 Thess 2, for example).
A potential problem with this review of Paul’s ministry is that it all occurred on the first missionary journey, before Timothy began to travel with Paul (Acts 15). This is sometimes used to argue that the letter of 2 Timothy is a pious forgery. The writer introduced a historical error by saying that Timothy witnessed these events himself. On the other hand, Timothy was from Lystra himself and joined Paul mission with the full knowledge that Paul is often persecuted physically and opposed by very powerful people where ever he preaches the Gospel!
Paul states very clearly that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . This is a common theme throughout the New Testament: Jesus was persecuted and so too will his followers face similar trials. Galatians 5:11 indicates that Paul was persecuted because he was preaching that the Gentiles were not under the Law. The immediate background is his troubles in Asia Minor to which he alludes here in 2 Timothy (cf. Rom 8:35, 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, 12:10, Gal 4:29, 5:11, 2 Thess 1:4).
If Timothy’s desire is to live a godly life, he will in fact face some sort of trial or persecution. Paul knows that Timothy is at the moment facing a difficult time because of the false teachers in Ephesus, even if that has not developed into a physical persecution at this point. This text is clear that the one who is “in Christ” will suffer like Christ. Perhaps this is an indication that the opponents in Ephesus are not really “in Christ,” they simply do not suffer!
Imagine what would happen in Evangelical Christianity if people really believed that they should suffer for Jesus rather than expecting to be wealthy because of their faith. When was the last time you took a rock to the head because of your faith in Jesus?
Timothy is to present himself as an approved workman (v. 14-15, 22). Paul’s metaphor here is of a worker presenting himself before his supervisor. The verb (σπουδάζω) has the sense of hurried activity, eagerness or zealousness (BDAG). Perhaps someone who is doing a job will conscientiously, working hard to make sure that it is done properly.
An approved workman might be someone who has been trained and “qualified” as a craftsman. The noun ἐργάτης is often an agricultural laborer (Matt 9:37, “fields,” 20:1, vineyard), but in Acts 19:25 it refers to craftsmen in a kind of guild. As an approved workman, Timothy is no longer an apprentice, still a student under a master. He is an approved worker who has been examined by a master and given an approval by that master.
Timothy is to present himself before God as an approved workman. We might have expected Paul to set himself up as the example since he has done this several times. But here the ultimate “approval” of a minister’s work is God himself.
Timothy ought to do his ministry in a way that does not cause him to be ashamed. Anyone who has done a work that involved a skill has probably said, ‘yeah, that is not my best work.” In the case of a craftsman going before a master for review, the worker will want to do their very best work possible so that they will not experience shame when their work is tested.
What would possibly cause Timothy shame? Possibly his youth, since Paul has already told him to not allow anyone to look down on him for his your (2 Tim 2:15). But it is also possible that his association with Paul is shameful. Paul’s opponents may have made the point that Paul is in prison and no longer under the blessing of God. If Timothy is Paul’s successor, then perhaps they are trying to shame Timothy by associating him with Paul’s “failure.” Paul certainly does not consider his imprisonment a shameful state, but a well-trained Greco-Roman orator could have used this to their advantage. Perhaps the opponents were able to pick apart Timothy’s teaching the way a Sophist might destroy an enemy’s rhetoric, causing Timothy public shame. In any case, Timothy is told to do his work in such a way that he will not be ashamed by his own efforts.
In order to be approved, Timothy is to “correctly handling” God’s word. What happened to rightly dividing? The Greek word (ὀρθοτομέω) is very rare and is the combination of the word for straight (ὀρθός) and the verb for cutting (τέμνω), hence the KJV’s “rightly dividing.” When the word is used with a road in mind, it means “cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction” (as in Thuc. 2, 100, 2 although the compound is not used there, BDAG).
In the context of 2 Timothy, the word has to been “correctly interpret” the Word of God. If Timothy is a craftsman, his “material” is the Word of God. Imagine a sculptor who is submitting a piece to Art Prize; the create a beautiful statue to display outside some building downtown. But they use the wrong material, instead of clay or stone or wood, they used sugar. The first time it rains, the sculpture will melt away into nothing (or a bunch of ants will come along and eat it!) Paul’s point here is that if Timothy is going to be an approved workman, he is going to need to know how to work with his materials in such a way as to present a finished product that will please the master.
There are many examples of people who are not well educated and try to interpret the Bible in new and exciting ways (and they tend to find their way to the internet and YouTube). For example, It is easy to pull a few verses out of the Old Testament, combine them with some conspiracy theory and fears about the government, and somehow prove the present administration is the Anti Christ or that immigration reform will lead to the End Times and the Mark of the Beast. Or something like that.
Does this mean that only the seminary-trained professional scholar should attempt to read the Bible? That is not Paul’s point at all; Timothy is the “professional” in his situation and his responsibility is to give a gentle answer when someone suggests a reading of the Bible that is in error.
In summary, this section begins with Paul commanding Timothy to seek his approval from God as if he were a worker looking for approval from his master. In order to gain that approval, Timothy must correctly handle his materials, in this case the word of God.
[Just a personal note….I spoke at camps in Southern Californian and Seattle, Washington over the last month. This kept me away from blogging for most of that time, mostly due to lack of Internet connections. I am back and plan on finishing out 2 Timothy before the fall semester kicks in. Sadly, there is no audio for this week’s Sunday Evening service. The sound man was on vacation and I did not know what button to press…]
Paul wants Timothy to find strength in the grace he has already received from Jesus. This strengthening is continual. Like taking vitamins, one does not take vitamins for a few days and then quit; you would just get weak and sickly again. It is the regular use of vitamins that build up some health and strength.
Why does Timothy need to be strengthened? He is suffering some sort of hardship, probably from within his churches. He is likely attacked for being too young, probably those who have defected from Paul see him as Paul’s deputy and therefore suspect, and he is possibly suffering some physical problems as well (“take a little wine for your stomach’s sake” might imply illness).
How does this strengthening happen? Paul gives no steps, but only states that it is “by grace in Christ Jesus.” This may seem a bit frustrating to the modern Christian since we would have preferred “ten steps to being strong in Jesus” at this point in the letter. Our relationship with Christ is not a series of hoops we have to jump through or achievement badges we earn. Our relationship with God in Jesus is more like a parent-child relationship. We do not start our at level one and work our way up to level ten, we are wholly a child of God from the moment we accept Christ as our savior.
Once again Timothy is simply told “be what you are,” a child of God. That status alone is the source of his strength – he can do all things through Christ (Phil 4:13).
In order to strengthen the whole church, Timothy is to pass along the things he has already heard from Paul to people who can be trusted to pass it along to a third generation. This is the chain of tradition we have already encountered in 2 Timothy. To whom is the tradition to be passed on? Paul calls the “faithful,” with the sense of trustworthy (sense of “competent, qualified and able”). By analogy, there are some people who you might think are reliable enough to house sit for you. If you get an untrustworthy person, then when you come home, your plants are dear and your pets are starved because they forgot to carry out their responsibility.
What is remarkable here is that Paul sets himself up as a standard, what Timothy heard from Paul in front of many reliable witnesses is to be passed along. This is like saying, make sure they know the standard Pauline sermon. That is foundational to everything else! This is not private teaching, or some sort of speculative teaching, but the sorts of things that Paul has always taught as truth and everyone knows is the core of the gospel.
The others who receive this tradition will teach in the future. Paul is not thinking of Timothy’s generation, but the people Timothy will disciple and prepare for ministry, they will be waning people that will be born long after Paul and Timothy are dead! This is really what all church work is about, preparing the next generation for serving Christ. Perhaps the reason that churches die is that they did not prepare the next generation to preserve to the Gospel.
Paul certainly would include lay leaders here, but looking ahead to the metaphors which follow, he has some kind of specialized training in mind. Not everyone is called to be a soldier nor should everyone train to be a soldier. Just because you watched war movies does not qualify you to be an officer in the military. Sadly, many Christians think that watching YouTube sermons qualify them to be pastors, often leading to disaster!
In 2 Tim 1 Paul has told Timothy to model his life and ministry after Paul, recalling the examples of both his family (Lois and Eunice) and Paul’s co-worker Onesiphorus. He ought to avoid the example of the false teachers in Ephesus, namely Phygelus and Hermogenes (1:15) and Hymenaeus and Philetus (2:17).
In order to avoid these faithless men, Timothy is to train the elders to be “approved workmen” (2:14-19). In fact, Timothy is to be an approved workman before he trains others. Like Paul’s warning to Titus, Paul warns Timothy to avoid quarreling about words or other theological babble. On the one hand, this is a difficult command since one has to have defined the “core” of the Christian faith very well in order to decide what qualifies as “babble.”
On the other hand, sometimes the theological “babble” seems fairly obvious, mostly since it is the sort of thing people are passionate about! (Like the famous definition of pornography, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it!)
“Do your best” (ESV) in v. 15 has the sense of being diligent in fulfilling an obligation (σπουδάζω), “make every effort” (BDAG). The KJV translated this word “study,” a word which has shifted considerably in modern English. The verb is used in Gal 2:10, for example, for the reminder to care for the poor. In Eph 4:3 Paul says that the believer ought to “be eager” to maintain the bond of unity. It is used twice in 2 Peter with the sense of diligence in spiritual development (1:10, 3:14). This word stands in contrast to being “diligent” in senseless theological babble. While the opponent in Ephesus is busy with their “endless myths,” Timothy is to be busy presenting himself as God’s approved workmen.
Timothy is to be an approved workmen, properly handling the word of God. 2 Tim 2:15 is classic verse for modern “noble Bereans” since it implies that the maturing person of God will become increasingly able to read the scriptures with intelligence and confidence. We sometimes talk about “learning a trade.” The more sone works and being a carpenter, for example, the better one gets.
The analogy is excellent since studying the Bible is a skill and an art. There are technical elements which can be taught and learned (parsing Greek verbs, reading background studies, finding parallel texts, etc.), but there is an art to knowing what to do with that information! An unskilled carpenter can build a bookshelf with boards and a few nails, but a master carpenter builds an excellent piece of furniture that is of great value.
The modern church has created a class of professional Bible interpreters. This gives the impression that the Bible is too difficult to fully understand without professional training. People in churches want to leave Bible reading to the professionals, the approved workmen. But this is not at all Paul’s point here. Timothy (and by analogy all believers) ought to be busy training themselves as best they can to handle the Bible correctly so that they will avoid the errors that are plaguing the churches in Ephesus.
That is the point of the phrase “rightly dividing” in the KJV. That translation is also not helpful, since the word refers to guiding the word of truth along a straight path (BDAG). Perhaps Pual has in mind a Roman Road that moves from one point to its goal, without any unnecessary deviation. So too the believer ought to read and study the Bible without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk.”
Paul’s point is that we ought to use the Scripture in a way that it was intended: do not twist scripture to make it say what you want it to say, or would prefer it to say.
[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]
Paul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (1:11). This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Tim 2:7. The “preacher” in the ESV is better a “herald,” or “proclaimer.” This is a person who is appointed to deliver a particular message, in Paul’s case, from God. The language is a little different in 1 Tim 1:18, 6:20 and 2 Tim 2:2. In these later books, Timothy is encouraged to guard or protect the deposit given to him. Like the old “town crier,” Timothy is to take this deposit of tradition and accurately proclaim it to his community.
Paul mentions things passed down to him in his other letters. Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles: 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 1 Cor 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection). In 2 Thess 2:15 Paul encourages the congregation to “stand firm” in the traditions which Paul delivered to them. Even in his earliest letter, Paul considers his gospel a tradition which cannot be modified (Gal 1:14). It is likely that Paul alludes to the words of Jesus in 1 Thess 5, words that are eventually collected in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse.
Paul is clear, however, that much of what he preached he received directly from Jesus through a special revelation. For some doctrines, this is a direct revelation that could not be deduced from the Hebrew Bible. For example, in 1 Thess 4:13-18 Paul says that the Lord himself gave him the revelation of the rapture. That Jews and Gentiles are saved into a single body without requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law is a “mystery” which was not revealed in the Hebrew Bible. In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul claims that the Gospel he preaches is “not of human origin” but rather “received by revelation.”
For some of Paul’s teaching, he may have been led by the Holy Spirit to interpret biblical texts differently, or to combine texts from the Hebrew Bible in unique ways which supported the idea that Jesus is the Messiah or that salvation is apart from works. Romans 4 indicates that the story of Abraham could be interpreted in a way that supported Paul’s gospel – this is exegesis guided by the Spirit of God. Much of the argument of Galatians is based on applications from stories in Genesis. Paul was trained as a scholar and interpreted Scripture in his sermons and letters in a way consistent with other Jewish teachers of his day. This “interpretation of scripture” is part of the tradition Timothy is to guard and pass along.
In some cases the tradition is handed down from the apostles through Paul, to Timothy and then to the qualified elders in Ephesus. In other cases Paul is the source. But in either case Paul commands Timothy to guard this tradition carefully and to pass it to the next generation of believers.