2 Timothy 4:6-8 – Paul’s Last Words

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.

Good FightPaul 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 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 focus on the Gospel. Like Timothy, we must continue being faithful to our calling and stand on the foundation of Scripture, clearly proclaiming the gospel. This is the “good fight” to which we have all been called.

2 Timothy 3:13-15 – Avoiding Self-Deception

MontebankThe 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, Herodotus, 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 this word was used to describe a swindler or a con-man who used 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 used the word in 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 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 sort of “teaching” that passes for popular Christian preaching!

2 Timothy 3:10-12 – Why did Paul Suffer?

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 teaching 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.

Paul StonedWhile 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 used to argue the letter of 2 Timothy is a pious forgery. The writer introduced a historical error by saying 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 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 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?

2 Timothy 2:14-15 – Present Yourself as an Approved Workman

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.

WorkmanAn 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.

2 Timothy 2:1–2 – Strengthened by Grace

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.

Popeye and SpinachWhy 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!

2 Timothy 1:13-14 – Handing Down Good Teaching

Second TimothyPaul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (1:11). This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Timothy 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 Corinthians 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 1 Corinthians 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection). In 2 Thessalonians 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 (Galatians 1:14).  It is likely that Paul alludes to the words of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians 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 Thessalonians 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.

For some American Christians, tradition is very important. I recently heard a sermon in the radio which cited the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession. In the twenty minutes I listened, no Scripture. I realize the classic formulations of doctrine are rich in Scripture, but is this what Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy?

On the other hand, how does the principle of “handing down good teaching” work in a modern culture where “tradition” is routinely rejected? In other churches, if something is even vaguely traditional, it is ignored as useless for the modern church. Scholars and pastors often push ideas well-past traditional boundaries simply for the joy of being different. How might Paul react to this sort of thing?

Titus 3:9-11 – Dealing with Those Who Disagree

Because of the descriptions of the false teachers in the background of 1 Timothy and Titus, scholars often suggest the letters were written well into the second century. There is some similarity between the description in Titus to the followers of Marcion (explaining why Marcion would not have accepted the books as authentically Pauline) or an early form of Montanism. Montanism was a charismatic revival of the middle/late second century and the Pastorals Epistles do not mention the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit.

Other scholars suggest the description of the false teachers is “generic.” There is no specific threat to the churches overseen by Timothy and Titus, but this is the sort of generic anti-heretic language which could be applied to any number of churches. This is similar to modern political rhetoric, Republicans always accuse Democrats as favoring “tax and spend” and Democrats always accuse Republicans of being in the pocket of the NRA. Whether those things are true or not about a given politician, the accusation will almost always be made. In Titus, Paul could be laying out a laundry list of the typical things his opponents have said and done, whether he has a specific false teacher in mind.

Could the be a an early form of Gnosticism or Montanism? This is always possible, depending on the definition of “proto.” The mixture of Greek philosophy and Jewish asceticism that becomes Gnosticism later in the second century may have its roots in the very churches planted by Paul. But the false teachings that the writer is dealing with is not at all close to the Gnostic teachings of the second century. To argue against “foolish myths and genealogies” as Paul does here is applicable in the first century as much as the second (or third or twenty-first!)

Regardless of the source of false teachers in Ephesus and Crete, Paul provides a three-step method for dealing with these troublemakers. The steps seem reasonably clear, but it is hard to know how to use them in a contemporary context. Paul is not describing a medieval excommunication or some sort of strange shunning-ritual. He wants his churches to be unified around a core yet also to preserve some diversity within the members of the church. How does this work?

The first step is to avoid teachings which create quarrels and dissensions. This cannot include the core elements of the Faith, the things Paul has already defined as “sound doctrine” in Titus 3. What things might be considered “divisive” our context? Paul is talking about drawing lines which include some and exclude others. to a large extent, the modern church has dealt with this by dividing up into a wide range of denominations. This would be intentionally divisive attitude designed to cause quarrels in the church. I have occasionally been asked to preach at conservative a church which used the King James Bible only; if I intentionally preached out of a NIV Bible, the congregation would be so angry they would never hear a single word I said. Imagine if I were asked to preach in a Christian Reformed church and did a classic dispenstionalist sermon on the Rapture!

Second, if there is a person who cannot set their divisiveness aside, then they are to be warned. The text says the false teacher “stirs up dissension,” indicating they are looking for an opportunity to argue over his special doctrine. This too becomes a difficult to apply in a modern context since people want to share their views in a welcoming and affirming environment. But the divisive person is not discussing an issue in order to gain a clearer understanding, they are pushing their agenda in order to make coverts to their fringe position. I understand what it is like to have a view out of step with the majority and I try not to be divisive on the issues I know will cause people to be upset.

Last, if the person continues to stir up dissension, then the church is to shun the person as a false teacher. This is very controversial since ostracizing someone from a group is a very “un-American.” Paul seems very prejudiced and arrogant to force someone who believes differently out of the church! “Shun the heretic” has a positively medieval sound to it which most modern people would like to avoid. We want to have open and honest discussions about our differences and come to a respectful understanding whether we agree or not. But for Paul, the presence of someone teaching unhealthy doctrine or advocating impure practices in the church can only damage the church.

Most likely these steps will look different in different cultures (African churches vs. American churches, for example). I have been a university professor for many years, and every once in a while I have a student who seems to want to argue about everything I say. It is not that they want to learn anything new, they just like to debate and argue (and probably waste class time so the test gets postponed). In a few cases the student was not interested in an open discussion of new ideas, they wanted to shut down anything they disagreed with and force their ideas on the group. I can think of examples from the most Fundamentalist students ever to the hyper-Calvinist (and one really odd Arminian). Although I have yet to shun a student, I have asked them to realize they are not in debate club and other students want to learn.

How do we use this material to preserve the unity and promote diversity within a local church?