2 Timothy 2:1-26.
Minister with Truth and Peace
American Journal of Biblical Theology April 25, 2004 Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
Like the first of Paul to Timothy, this second letter was written to encourage him, and to give him some instruction as he served the congregations in the Church at Ephesus. When Paul and Timothy arrived in Ephesus, they found the church in chaos with sincere, but erroneous leadership taking the fledgling congregations in a variety of philosophical and pseudo-religious directions, all of which were based in unsound doctrines. The modern church today is not unlike the church in Ephesus. Though unlike the Ephesian church, the modern church has a reliable source of New Testament scripture to draw on, it is still characterized by variant doctrines and worldly leadership. Some large denominations of Christianity give authority to the church, reducing or rejecting the authority of scripture by denying its truth and infallibility. Many small churches, though containing faithful and sincere members, often allow prideful leadership to dominate the congregation, individuals who use the congregation a means to fulfill their need to control others, usurping the power of the Holy Spirit to lead the church, and by so doing they diminish the work of the church and often cause no little hurt within the body.
This was the atmosphere in the Ephesian churches, small congregations scattered among the homes of its members. Usually the homeowner was the "pastor," and the congregation was dependent upon the doctrine of that leader, a doctrine that was usually quite ignorant of Paul's Christian teachings, and more in agreement with pagan religions, Greek philosophies, and Jewish traditions. Again, the modern church today has often diminished the power of the gospel by watering it down with the philosophies of modern culture, philosophies that vary little from those of ancient Greece.
It is evident that, though Timothy had been with the Ephesian church for at least a few years by the time of the receipt of this letter, many of the problems that he encountered on his arrival were still there. Change comes very hard to people who are satisfied with their current state. People are quick to reject the truth if that truth challenges what they want to believe. Prideful leadership is quick to reject the truth if it challenges their personal authority.
How does one minister in such an environment? As a member of such a congregation, how does one respond to erroneous doctrine and inappropriate leadership? The exposure of the situation in the churches and the answers to these questions are the predominant themes in Paul's letters to Timothy, and provide us with a tremendous resource for facing these very important issues.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
The word "therefore" identifies that this thought is a continuation from the previous themes in the first chapter. In it, Paul encourages Timothy to hold fast to the confidence that he has in the gospel and its power to save, even in the midst of within which he finds himself. How does one maintain confidence in Timothy's situation? It is our natural bent to gain confidence from the encouragement of others, to draw strength from the strength of others who agree with us. However, such a source of strength is weak and transitory at best. Timothy might feel exhausted and lonely, much as many pastors do today as they try to lead their congregations away from the world and place them on a path toward Christ. Though we do gain great strength and encouragement from the support of others, as Paul certainly testified to himself, Paul clearly states the ultimate strength does not come from others, but from Jesus Christ. So, Paul returns Timothy's attention to the source of true strength: the grace that is in Jesus Christ.
Drawing strength in the grace of Jesus involves the reminder that the gospel is the truth. When confronted with so many philosophies, doctrinal theories, and traditions, it is easy to rationalize their applicability and appropriate them in the Christian life. However, the truth of the Gospel is not enhanced by these sources, but is rather covered up by them. It is the gospel that is the truth, and no other source has its authority and power to save.
Drawing strength in the grace of Jesus involves surrendering to the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide. This is a difficult task for the prideful leader who wants to command others rather than humbly serve them. However, when one totally surrenders to the Holy Spirit, he/she appropriates the full power of the gospel, and can serve God and serve the congregation from a position of power beyond anything that personal power can imagine. Personal power may produce prestige, notoriety, and may serve to satisfy the desires of the one wielding it, but the power of the Holy Spirit enables an individual to be part of God's work that changes lives and brings people to reconciliation to Him, bringing them out of the mire of sin. Any Christian leader who's ministry is not characterized by this latter characteristic is most likely characterized by the former.
Drawing strength in the grace of Jesus appropriates for one a power that is far beyond themselves, a power to love and minister in a world immersed in sin without becoming further stained by it.
Drawing strength in the grace of Jesus rather than from self or worldly sources in itself will make a profound change for anyone who is engaged in ministry.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
This statement is still a continuation of the theme that Paul is presenting. As Timothy is to find his strength in the grace of Jesus Christ, he can depend upon the example that he has witnessed in Paul and the uncompromised doctrine that Paul teaches. Furthermore, it is this doctrine that is true. It is this doctrine that he is to give to other faithful men who are able to teach others. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul described how to recognize one who is a mature Christian, one who is able to carry the gospel to others. It is to these that the gospel is to be entrusted.
Note that Paul clearly instructs Timothy to share the responsibilities of ministry with others. Pastors and leaders who insist on "going it alone," find themselves exhausted and burned out by trying to do everything. Today's modern model of ministry tends to reinforce this error. Churches expect their pastors to do it all, sharing little or none of his ministry responsibility. Actually, the pastor is not called to be the world's evangelist, it is the church member. The pastor's calling is to facilitate the members of the congregation, preparing them to be the salt and light in the world. This cultural division between clergy and laity results in unempowered laity and overworked clergy. This distinction was not as pronounced in the early church, and has come only from years of church traditional organization. All Christians are called by God to serve as ministers to a sin-sick world. If the laity of the church was so inclined, pastors would not be burning out, and would be free to teach, train, and facilitate the laity for even greater ministry.
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
Paul often draws images from sports and from the military to illuminate and illustrate his thoughts. Anyone who has served in the military is very familiar with the world-view changing process that such a career engenders. One who is in the military has, for a time, stepped out of civilian life, and is fully dedicated to the mission of the service that employs him. "entangleth himself with the affairs of this life" literally involves the intertwining of one's self in civilian business affairs. The uniform of the soldier separates him from the civilian. His chain of command comes from within the military, and not from his/her civilian counterparts. By keeping himself from civilian affairs, the soldier is free to focus on his mission. In this example, that soldier is actively engaged in warfare, further emphasizing his separation from civilian issues. It is only in this separation from civilian life that the war-engaged soldier can be effectively engaged in his mission.
As Paul contrasts the life of the active soldier from that of a civilian, he is using it as a metaphor to describe the Christian life. Like a soldier, the Christian is separated from those who are not Christians by a unique authority. As the soldier wears the uniform that embodies the authority and power of the military, the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit that embodies the authority and power of God. Like the soldier who does not entangle himself in civilian matters, the Christian does not entangle himself in this sin-immersed world. The Christian is to be separate from this world like the soldier is separate from civilian life.
It is simpler for the soldier: he is required by military law to wear a uniform that announces to all who see him that he is a soldier. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer can be just as much a distinctive "uniform" for the Christian, but only if God is allowed by the believer to do so. Just as the commander is pleased by the obedience of his subordinates, God is pleased by the obedience of his children as they submit to Him, appropriate for themselves the power of the Holy Spirit, and minister to people in need. Paul simply reminds Timothy, and those Christians who read his letter, to maintain that separation from the philosophies and traditions of this world, and hold firm to the gospel.
And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
The English language seems to have changed considerably over the last few hundred years, making this verse as translated by King James, more difficult to follow. Paul is again drawing a metaphor, though this time from the sports arena. He is literally saying, "Anyone who is engaged in athletic competition is not declared the victor unless he plays by the rules." One who breaks the rules is disqualified. As Timothy is vying with other Ephesian leaders, he is surrounded by those who are not "playing by the rules." They are not servant-leaders who are ministers of the gospel. Timothy can have confidence as he continues the race, knowing that he is focused on the true prize, and is running the race correctly as long as he holds to the grace of Jesus Christ.
The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.
Paul draws his third illustration from the life of the farmer. The key word in this phrase is, "laboreth." The Greek word refers to a hard labor, one that requires much of the worker. The work of the farmer is to cultivate the soil, plant the seed, nurture the seed, and finally to harvest the crop. This was a long and arduous process for the first-century farmer. Consequently, the fruit of the labor is realized by the farmer who has done the work. Anyone else who would take the harvest is a thief. Timothy can be confident to know that hard work, when applied in a ministry of grace, will ultimately result the reaping of a harvest that came both from the miracle of God's grace to grow the seed, and the hard work of the husbandman.
Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
Paul has just drawn illustrations from three secular employments: the soldier in battle, the athlete in competition, and the farmer in the field. In all of these we see success obtained through arduous labor and discipline that is focused on a single prize, drawing from appropriate resources for direction and strength. Paul calls upon Timothy to pause and think about how these metaphors apply to his calling as a minister of the gospel. In all of these employments, the worker is an individual who is focused on his task and not distracted by that which would cause him to fail. Likewise, Timothy is to stay true to his calling, working hard as he remains focused on his true mission of grace, working without being distracted by the philosophies, false doctrines, and sins of this world.
Understanding the things of God necessitates a submission to the Lord. Understanding comes from the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul reminds Timothy that, as he considers these things, that he do so in a state of submission to the Holy Spirit, and likewise, all Christians should do the same. It is not Paul who has the ultimate authority, nor is it the writer of this commentary. Paul is attempting to illuminate the truth with his commentary, but Timothy must rely on the Holy Spirit to help him to fully understand the fullness of what God would have him learn.
Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:
The Greek verb used for "remember" is in a tense that is continuing. Timothy is engaged in a difficult ministry, one that can easily be discouraging and demoralizing if he does not remain focused on the goal and appropriate strength from the grace of God. As Timothy continues in this ministry, he is to continue remembering two wonderful truths concerning his understanding and teaching of Christ (Christology.) First, that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ), and yet the seed of David. That Jesus is in the fullness of God, the Messiah, who was prophesied in the scripture. As the Messiah Jesus is fully what He says He is, and his Purpose is complete and true. As the seed of David, not only did the Messiah fulfill prophesy, but became fully man, experiencing all of the emotions, feelings, and temptations of a man. Finally, Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected from the grave to return to his state in Glory as the Messiah, the Son of God.
These three teachings are basic to any understanding of who Jesus is, laying the foundation of God's purpose of grace through Him. As Timothy deals with the variant teachings of those around him, he is to hold fast to this truth and not be swayed by the heresies that may sound rational, reasonable, and attractive.
Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. 10Therefore I endure all things for the electís sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
It is evident that members of the Ephesian church were turning away from Paul and his teachings as a result of their shame of his Roman imprisonment. His state as a criminal diminished, at least for them, the authority of his message, leaving the membership to turn to others who declared a different gospel. Paul uses a play on words as he states that he is suffering at the hands of evil the identity of one who is evil. He is set in opposition against those who chain him. To those who put him in chains he is an evil doer, but evil in the sight of those who are evil is that which is good. Though the evil have the power to place in chains those who do good, they are powerless to place chains around God, and in this their error and folly is exposed.
It is for this reason that Paul endures the chains. He is not there because he broke any Roman laws, and his ultimate execution will not be because he broke any laws, but simply because he is a prisoner. This is much the same as the way some of the Ephesians are treating him. He is in prison following his appeal to Caesar for charges stemming around his taking Timothy into the temple in Jerusalem. Though he broke no law, since Timothy is a Jew, the religious leaders used the charge based upon Timothy's Greek father. Had Paul not appealed to Caesar, he would have ultimately been set free. Also, during his imprisonment, he was presented with many opportunities to simply walk away. Paul was true to his convictions and to the integrity of his faith. His incarceration was entirely the result of persecution for, as a respected Pharisee, his teachings about Jesus were contrary to the position of the Jewish leadership. He was an ever-present martyr for the Christian faith so that by his testimony of integrity and truth, more people might come to know Christ.
It is not at all uncommon today for pastors to endure persecution, and many are more willing to compromise their doctrine in order to avoid it. However, their source of persecution comes from their own church members who do not wish to be obedient to Christ, but would rather use the church to appease their need for sanctification and/or simply as the outlet for their social interests. I can recall several times when antagonistic leadership demanded a "recall vote" or made demands to the higher church authorities to have a pastor removed from office, not because of any doctrinal error, but because of the truths of their teaching; truths that would challenge the supposed authority of the leadership. Christians should be reminded to pray every day for those who have been called to serve the body of Christ, for like Paul, many who cannot compromise the truth of their calling find themselves abused by evil people.
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: 12If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: 13If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
Based upon the structure of these three verses, many scholars hold that these are words to an old Hebrew hymn. The parallelism and the four "if" clauses indicate Hebrew as its source. The parallelism makes four-fold use of a continuing verb tenses, slightly different from the simple past, present, and future tenses of the English language. One can almost place the words, "As you ..." prior to each verb, invoking its on-going form. Therefore, "be dead with Him" is a continual process of "dying with Him", and as we do this we continue to live in Him. God has given his children the opportunity to (1) live with Him, (2) reign with Him, (3) be free of denial by Him, and (4) continually experience His faithfulness. To be dead with Him is to be separated from this world as He is separated from this world. Christians are to be separate from this world, set apart to a Godly purpose, and by so doing are "holy." If Christians are, indeed, set apart, persecution will follow, both from outside the church, and because the world has infiltrated the church, from within it. However, when Christians suffer for their faith, they share in that suffering with Christ.
The last two parallelisms reverse the logic of the first two. Do deny God is to live in the world, a world that will only keep one separated from God. If one fails to believe in God, he is accepted by the world, and will not experience persecution by it. The true reward for separation from this world is to live eternally with God, a gift of grace, a gift that because of God's faithfulness is reliable because God cannot deny Himself.
Again, this doctrine opposes the teachings of the church leadership that is taking the church away from grace. Like many in the church today, the leaders compromise the gospel to make it fit the philosophies of this pagan world. Paul reminds Timothy and the church of the consequences of such choices.
Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
Though these words were given to Timothy as encouragement and instruction, Paul explicitly instructs Timothy to share these things with the church. To do this is going to take courage and strength as he stands in opposition to the church leadership. Paul condemns the teaching of the leadership as words with "no profit" that serve only to manipulate and control those who hear them. By profiting nothing, this is a leadership that is not leading people to faith, but rather leading them to religion. In the case of the Ephesian church, they were forms of religion that were syncretic, that is, drawing a set of religious rites and practices from a variety of sources. In the same way, the church today often compromises its message in order to be accepted by society and/or to assure that no one is offended by its message. The result of such a watering down of the gospel is to reduce or eliminate the profit gained by its message. People may be joining the church, but are people being saved? How many are still separated from a relationship with God by a church that is convincing that they are, by their membership and agreement with their leaders, obedient to God?
Timothy is challenged by God to take on these leaders directly, charging them directly that their words are not profitable to the gospel. Many today need to hear these same words.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Again, because of the use of the King James translation, this verse is often inappropriately applied. I used to use this verse to emphasize the need for Bible study, and its service as the foundation of that which produces an unabashed workman. The principle may certainly be true, considering the context engages the application of the word of truth, but unfortunately, that is not what Paul is emphasizing here. The word for "study" has changed meaning over the years, though we occasionally see it used in the way Paul uses it. Consider its use in the lyrics of Willie Dixon's ballad, "Study War No More." To study war is to fully participate in it. Some translate the Greek as "Do your best." The idea is that the Christian should be fully engaged in the work of grace rather than in the works of the world. One who is fully committed to Christ is one who is approved of God for their obedience to and love for Him. Such an individual has no need to be ashamed for their allegiance, nor for the decision they made to follow Jesus.
Certainly, Bible study is a key component to one's ability to "rightly divide the word of truth." However, the emphasis here is not so much book study as it is a life commitment. One who does not know Christ can pick up a Bible and study it, understanding little or nothing of its content. The Etheopian to whom Philip ministered recognized his inability to understand its words. One can rightly divide the word of truth only when one has appropriated the power of the Holy Spirit in their hearts by their repentance from sin, turning to God in faith. Once one comes to know God through the saving experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ, the words of the scriptures come alive. It is this empowering of the scripture that faith in God produces that Paul is referring to as "rightly dividing.' One can understand scripture only in the light of the Holy Spirit's leading. Those who are lost cannot correctly approach its word, and both their study of it and their teaching of it is powerless.
I am reminded of a New Testament Survey course I took at a major university. Taught by a professor who was not a Christian, it was a course that approached the scriptures as literature. The professor debunked most of its teachings, and taught with none of its power. The experience was a great example to me of powerless teaching. Many Christian students dropped the course because they found the dead approach to scripture to be offensive. Unfortunately, there are congregations today that approach scripture in this same, dead, way.
How does one "rightly divide the word of truth"? First, one must be saved so that the context for its message is consistent with the Spirit that is in the reader. Second, to understand it more fully, one must spend time with it, so yes, study is important. Christians should enjoy the time they spend under its preaching, under its teaching, and alone with it in study. Dedication to Bible study is as life-changing as the experience of salvation itself, as one matures in their understanding of God's word, and of God's purpose for one's life.
But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. 17And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; 18Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
One of the distinctive characteristics of Hellenistic, or Greek, society is their cultural bent toward debate and dialogue. It was the context of this debate-culture that opened doors for testimony for Paul on Mars Hill. However, this obsession with debate over broad issues may be appropriate for the pagan Greek, but may not be useful or fruitful for the Christian church. Theologians enjoy getting together and debating some of the nuances of doctrine and belief. However, debate for debate's sake can be extremely damaging to the Christian congregation, as such debate leads to speculation that leads to error. Vain babblings, as Paul refers to them are characterized by speculative theology, doctrines and ideas that are outside of the bounds of the gospel, speculating on issues that move one outside of God's truths. Paul gives an example, by name, of two individuals who have been teaching that the resurrection (in this case the second coming of Christ), has already passed. This teaching is preventing some from acquiring true faith.
Whenever one engages in speculative theology, the context of that engagement should be fully known by all. Engaging in speculative and extra-scriptural arguments may serve as an exercise to strengthen one's beliefs and understanding of the gospel, for when called to defend one's beliefs, one may have to dig deep into its truths and present them in an organized and powerful manner. However, when the debate leaves the context of such apologetics, one can be taken down a path of error, a path filled with nice sounding rationalizations, but a path that is powerless to save.
The teachings of the Christian teacher should always be based upon the foundations of God's uncompromised truth. To do otherwise is to lead people astray. Christian teachers have a great responsibility to hold to the truth because of the damage they can cause to the gospel by leading people into falsehood. (James 3:1).
Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the masterís use, and prepared unto every good work.
Timothy, faced with such opposition, is reminded by Paul of the true powerlessness of those who would wish to overpower him. It is difficult for one with a servant's heart to compete with one with a heart of self-aggrandizing desire for power and control. Paul reminds Timothy that those who have rejected the Gospel may be accepted by men, but are fully rejected by God. Paul then goes on to describe how the "great house" of the church is filled with such people. Where the church is filled with much gold and silver (those who love the Lord), it also contains wood and earth (those who do not.) Some in the congregation are honored by God for their faithfulness, and others experience no such honor because of their worldly state. Many Christians today would balk at any discussion that argues that the church contains people who are not Christians. However, ignore that truth is to open oneself to the damage that Satan can stir in the church with importunity. One can still look on the rolls of the church to find people who are engaged in ungodly lifestyles and hateful opinions. It has been from the ranks of the church that extremist groups have found their most vehement recruits. Over the years it has been people in the church who have persecuted those who disagree with them or are different, persecutions that range from religious grounds to racial hatred. Two terrible examples are those who populated the Klu Klux Klan, and those who participated in the persecution of the Jews during World War II.
We may not see so much radical evil in the church today, but the wood and earth are still there. How does one deal with those who are firmly entrenched in the body of Christ? In previous portions of Paul's letter to Timothy, Paul has already instructed him to continue to love these people, and continue to teach them the truth. Paul has discouraged direct confrontation that would only flame fires of confusion or disagreement. Here Paul adds that Timothy should be careful not to appropriate for himself any characteristic of the position, doctrines, or practices of these people. He is to shun the characteristics of the wood and earth as he embraces the love of the gold and silver. This does not mean to shun the false teachers entirely, since Paul has already instructed Timothy to love and teach them.
Relating to church antagonists in this manner is a very difficult thing to do. The natural man wants to reach out and beat down the antagonist. The natural man wants confrontation. Unfortunately, such confrontation only engenders argument and disagreement, and Satan is given a foothold that can divide the church between the positions of the disagreeing leaders. To confront the false teacher with only love and correct teaching takes a lot of patience, and may take a lot of time. Meanwhile, the false teacher continues in their practice. God did not appoint Timothy to be the judge and jury: that is God's responsibility, and the antagonist will ultimately responsible for the damage he has caused. It is Timothy's responsibility to be a lighthouse of truth and love, always responding in love and grace.
If a Christian can separate himself in this way from the false teachers, yet maintain love and testimony to them, God can use him/her as a vessel of reconciliation. Timothy seeks reconciliation, and by letting God be the agent of that reconciliation, the results would be earnest and true.
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Likewise, as Timothy is to be a testimony to true doctrine, he is to be a testimony to true practice of the faith. Much of the pagan philosophies of the day rationalized away the unrighteousness of sin. The Gnostics taught that what one did with the body was not spiritually relevant, so physical sin was acceptable in their form of righteousness. Timothy is to be an example that righteousness, abstaining from practices that fail to serve as a testimony to godliness. As a result of this, Christians may find it appropriate to refrain from practices that, though not illegal by any writ of law, could offend a person of faith who does not understand the application of such a practice in the same way. Consequently, righteousness is not following a set of laws, but simply living a life that is sensitive to the counsel of the Holy Spirit, a life that comes out of a pure heart. Such a heart is characterized by love, faith, and peace, not anger, timidity, or turmoil.
But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 24And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
Paul summarizes how Timothy should relate to the false teachers in the church. Timothy should avoid getting into arguments over foolish and ignorant questions, staying firm on the gospel of grace and truth. He should avoid strife. He must approach those who are offending the gospel with patience and love, with a gentle attitude of a learned teacher rather than the militant attitude of a dictator. Paul often describes this characteristic of leadership as "meekness," literally "power under control." Timothy is to approach those who oppose him as a gentle and meek teacher. By doing this, God becomes the agent of change in the life of the opposition, the only agent that makes a real difference. When they respond to God, they can be saved from the snare of the devil who is the one who now holds them captive.
Dealing with difficult people in the church is one of the most stressful of a Christian leader's experiences. In his letters to Timothy, Paul provides considerable instruction on how to do do this, presenting an approach that is bathed in God's love for all people, an approach that allows Timothy to maintain a spirit of grace and peace, and empowers the Holy Spirit to change the life of the antagonist. The formula is really quite simple: love without ceasing, demonstrate graceful peace, and teach the uncompromised truths of God's word. Then, watch what God can do.