At First Baptist Church in Lindale, TX, in our Sunday evening service, we have been doing a Survey of the New Testament. I have been writing overviews of New Testament books, which I will be posting here on my blog. This is the presentation that I did on 2 Timothy.
2 Timothy 1:13-14
“Hold to the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”
We as human beings are fond of considering the famous last words of the dying. Some persons’ last words have been deeply profound, worth remembering, and passing on to another generation. In 1776, before Nathan Hale was hung by the British for being a spy, he said, “I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
There are other words that have been deeply tragic. In his last moments, John Belushi, the famous Saturday Night Live comedian who died of a drug overdose at the age of 33, it is said that his final words were, “Don’t leave me alone.”
Other last words are ironic. While under fire by the Confederates, General John Sedgwick boldly said to his men, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” He was suddenly shot and died.
I’ve always been touched by the accounts of those who were able to address their loved ones with their dying words. Vince Lombardi, the famous football coach. As he was dying he turned to his wife and said, “Happy anniversary. I love you,” and then he passed.
The late R.C. Sproul talked about his dad’s last words to him, the last words he spoke to anyone. He said, “Son, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” His father’s last words were Paul’s last words from 2 Timothy 4:7.
The book of 2 Timothy is the last letter that we have from the Apostle Paul. Now, they weren’t exactly his dying words. Evidence from the letter suggests that Paul lived several more months perhaps after writing this. In fact, he may have even written other letters. Nonetheless, he knew his time was near: “The time of my departure has come,” he says in 4:6, as he was about to be martyred for preaching the gospel. For all intents and purposes, these are Paul’s famous last words.
The message of the letter is to tell Timothy to guard the gospel and persevere even in the face of suffering. As said in 1:8, “Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.” Dr. Voddie Baucham has summarized the central message of 2 Timothy this way: “Timothy, they’re about to kill me for preaching the gospel. When they do, keep preaching the gospel until they kill you, too.”
Let’s consider together the author, recipient, and background of the letter; followed by the occasion for the letter and its themes; then the structure or the outline of this letter; and then finally we’ll consider some practical applications.
The Author, Recipient, and Background
As we explore this message further, let’s consider the the author, the recipient, and the background of the letter. The book of 2 Timothy is the second of three pastoral letters, between 1 Timothy and Titus. It’s just over 1,200 words long, which means if I were to read it to you out loud, it would take about 10 minutes. By comparison, the Sermon on the Mount is twice as long as 2 Timothy. Though the Sermon on the Mount is three chapters, and 2 Timothy is 4, the chapters of 2 Timothy are shorter.
The first couple of verses clearly identify for us who wrote this and for whom: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child.” Timothy was of course not Paul’s biological son but his son in the faith. He is first mentioned in Acts 16:1 as “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.” We learn a little more about Timothy’s backstory even in this letter. Look at verse 5: I am “reminded of the unhypocritical,” or genuine, “faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am convinced that it is in you as well.”
At the time Paul was writing this, Timothy was pastor of the church in Ephesus, as was also the case when Paul wrote 1 Timothy. Paul would have been in prison in Rome, considered his second imprisonment. His first imprisonment was when he wrote the letters Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, while under house arrest, as seen at the end of the book of Acts. This second imprisonment was likely less comfortable, and more like being in a jail cell than under house arrest.
The book of Acts ends in about A.D. 62 or 63. Since 2 Timothy was written shortly before Paul’s death, that means it would be dated no later than the year 67. We have very little information about Paul’s ministry in those four years in between. Most of it comes from church tradition, although we have some hints given to us from Scripture as well.
In Romans 15 beginning in verse 23, Paul says, “I have had for many years a longing to come to you, whenever I go to Spain—for I hope, passing through, to see you, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while.” Then in verse 28, he says, “I will go on by way of you to Spain.”
Paul first returned to Jerusalem, and that’s where he was arrested and put on a ship for Rome. We end the book of Acts, as I mentioned with Paul under house arrest in Rome. In his letter to the Philippians, which was written during his first imprisonment, he talked about whether he should die and go be with the Lord or remain for their benefit. In chapter 1 verse 25, he says, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”
So it wasn’t in that imprisonment that he was martyred. In fact, Acts 28:30 says, “He stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him.” The implication is, even according to Luke, that Paul did not die in that first imprisonment. He was held for two years and released.
Beyond that, we have no biblical account that Paul made it to Spain, but we do have some extra-biblical evidence. Clement of Rome, one of the early church fathers, said that Paul had reached the furthest limits of the west. The Muratorian Canon (2nd c.), about 80 years after Clement, said that Luke in writing the book of Acts “omitted the martyrdom of Peter as well as the departure of Paul from the city of Rome when he journeyed to Spain.”
So church tradition maintains that Paul did make it to Spain, and then it was perhaps as he was traveling back east that he was arrested again and imprisoned in Rome a second time, and at the end of that time he was executed. It’s during that second imprisonment that he wrote this letter. Under persecution for the gospel of Christ, which Timothy witnessed in Paul’s ministry, Paul encouraged Timothy to guard the gospel and share in suffering.
The Occasion and Themes of Letter
Having considered the author, the recipient, and the background for the letter, let’s consider the occasion and themes. What does a man on death row for preaching the gospel have to say to his son in the faith, as Paul wants him to continue preaching the gospel with all boldness? It could be that Paul wanted to write one last letter to Timothy and encourage him, strengthening him in his role as a preacher. It could also be that Paul was concerned about Timothy’s steadfastness in the mission.
In verses 6-8, Paul says, “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-discipline. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of either the witness about our Lord or me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.”
Again, that could be just because Paul wants to encourage Timothy. In Philippians 3:1, Paul write, “Finally, brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” That could have been his same motivation for writing to Timothy. Or he could have been concerned that Timothy was in danger of becoming spiritually weak. He encourages Timothy to be strong in the truth (v.13-14). He tells him to be strengthened (2:1) and preach the word (4:2).
As John MacArthur notes, “These final words to Timothy include few commendations but many admonitions, including 25 imperatives.” That’s 25 instructions or commands that he has for his student. MacArthur continues, “Since Timothy was well versed in Paul’s theology, the apostle did not instruct him further in doctrine. He did, however, allude to several important doctrines, including salvation by God’s sovereign grace (1:9; 2:10), the person of Christ (4:1 and 8), and perseverance.”
Like Paul’s previous letter to Timothy, he makes references to creeds or confessions that Timothy would have learned and were common in the church. In 2 Timothy 2:11-13, he said, “It is a trustworthy saying: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”
Let’s consider 7 main themes within the letter, made up here of 6 imperatives and a final word of assurance:
1) Be sound in doctrine.
Timothy was to hold fast to the true word that he had been taught from childhood and had also learned from Paul. One of the most famous verses in 2 Timothy is 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of god may be equipped, having been thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Timothy was also to pass on this sound teaching to faithful men, that the work of the gospel would continue from one generation to the next. In 2:2, Paul says, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” In 2:14, Paul says, “Remind them of these things, solemnly charging them in the presence of God not to dispute about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.”
2) Avoid error and false teachers.
There’s a constant back and forth through the letter, with Paul encouraging sound teaching and then warning against false teachers, sometimes calling them out by name. In 1:15, Paul says, “You are aware of this, that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” In 4:14, he says, “Alexander the coppersmith showed me much harm; the Lord will award him according to his deeds.” I love that reference, because it’s like, “Hey, you know Alexander who has the coppersmith shop over there on Nero Blvd. Yeah, that guy. Watch out for him.” Jesus confronted the Pharisees to their faces in the midst of a crowd of people.
There are strong themes of calling out false teachers especially here in 2 Timothy. By keeping his doctrine pure, Timothy was also to keep himself pure, walking in holiness and not wandering from the truth into sin. This is a theme that is shared between 1 and 2 Timothy. Sound doctrine leads to godliness; false doctrine leads to ungodliness.
3) Follow the example you’ve been given.
Paul not only names false teachers, he gives the names of godly examples. In chapter one, the household of Onesiphorus. At the conclusion of the letter are references to numerous saints. Most of all, Timothy has been given an example to follow in the Apostle Paul (1:13, 3:10).
4) Persevere in the midst of hardship.
Timothy was to be ready to suffer persecution and other trials. In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Sometimes he might even find himself deserted by those he thought were his friends, as Paul had been. In chapter 4, he mentions that Demas, in love with this world, deserted him and went back to Thessalonica.
He says in verse 16, “At my first defense, no one supported me, but all deserted me.” Yet he graciously adds, “May it not be counted against them,” giving Timothy another example to follow. This is, after all, how Jesus responded to His own disciples who deserted Him when He was arrested. As Christ has been gracious, so we must be forgiving to one another.
5) Be a good soldier, athlete, and farmer.
Paul introduces these metaphors in chapter 2, but elements of each example occur throughout the letter. In 2:3-6, Paul says, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.”
Through these metaphors, we recognize that the soldier represents duty; the runner self-discipline; and the farmer patience. When Paul says in 2:14, “Charge them before God not to quarrel about words,” that sounds like a soldier giving orders and is not to be entangled in the affairs of everyday life. When Paul says in 2:22, “Flee youthful passions,” that sounds like a runner who is to compete according to the rules, doesn’t it? When Paul says in 4:2, “Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season,” that is the daily work of a farmer.
At the end of the letter, he repeats those themes, when he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
6) Preach the gospel without ceasing.
No matter what happens, Timothy was to continue preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Another way of understanding this is that Timothy needed to fulfill the requirements of his office. Back to 4:2 again, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and teaching.” Then in verse 5, “Always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
“Fulfill your ministry” is the office, “Preach the word” is the task, in Timothy’s role as a pastor. If Timothy persevered in this work, he would receive the great reward of God at the very end. In verse 8, Paul says, “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
7) The Lord will be with you.
Timothy would persevere in all of these things not by his own strength but by the power of God. In 2:1 Paul says, “You therefore, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Even if no one else stood with Timothy, the Lord would be with him. After Paul talked about being deserted, he says in 4:17, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the preaching might be fulfilled, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth.”
The Structure of the Letter
You may find several different structures from different preachers. This is the one I have chosen to go with, broken up into ten main parts, with a brief explanation below for how I see these divisions:
- Passing the Torch (1:1-7)
A. Greeting (v.1-2)
B. Thankfulness (v.3-8)
- Hold and Guard (1:8-18)
A. Exhortation (v.8-11)
B. Examples (v.12-18)
- Soldier, Athlete, Farmer (2:1-7)
- Remember Jesus Christ (2:8-13)
- Approved Workers (2:14-19)
A. Two words to them (v.14)
B. Two words to Timothy (v.15-19)
- Vessels of Honor (2:20-26)
- Vessels of Dishonor (3:1-9)
- Continue in What You Have Learned (3:10-17)
A. Remember Paul’s faithfulness (v.10-13)
B. Remember what you’ve been taught (v.14-17)
- Christ is Judge (4:1-8)
- The Lord Will Rescue (4:9-22)
The first section is clearly the opening of the letter, with the salutation and expression of thanks (1:1-7). The first two transitions are broken up by the word “therefore” (1:8, 2:1); the next two are broken up by a call to remember (2:8, 14). The next two sections on vessels of honor and dishonor (2:20-3:9) is divided by the transition at the start of chapter 3: “But know this.” Paul comes back to giving Timothy a reminder (3:10-17) and a solemn charge (4:1-8). The concluding section contains Paul’s final instructions.
What are some practical applications should we be able to take away from 2 Timothy? Well, being a pastoral letter, the applications for pastors should be obvious: preach the word, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. Fulfill your ministry. In 2:15, we read, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
But even in this, we should be able to identify applications for all of us. We all need to be unashamed of the gospel. We all need to accurately handle the word of truth. We all need to be aware of and sometimes call out false teachers. We all need to persevere even in the midst of trials and hardships, lest we show ourselves to have never been believers in the gospel at all. We all need to be prepared to face persecution and ridicule for what we believe.
Recently, a reporter for NBC news, Anne Thompson, investigated “the rise of Christian Nationalism in America.” She focused on a particular church in Moscow, ID, Christ Church pastored by Douglas Wilson. Thompson said, “There is a growing movement in politics called Christian Nationalism. It believes America should be a Christian nation following the ideals laid out in the Bible. Christian Nationalists are culture warriors. They are typically conservative republicans.”
When asked what these Christian Nationalists are teaching, Thompson said, “Pastor Wilson and Christ Church preach that men should lead households and wives should be submissive to their husbands. The church believes homosexuality is a choice and a sinful one. It opposes gay marriage and abortion.”
You mean, what every true Christian in 2000 years of church history has believed? So really, “Christian Nationalism” is just a subversive term for “Christians.” It’s biblical Christianity that they hate. You’ll find other terms like White Evangelicalism and Patriarchy are also code for Bible believing Christians.
All of us need to be good soldiers, focused athletes, and patient farmers. We must fight in the spiritual sense to guard the gospel and share in suffering. And that’s not something we’re meant to do alone—that’s something we do together as a church, as the body of Christ.
Just as Timothy was instructed to entrust these things to faithful men, who will carry the torch of the gospel into the next generation, so we need to do the same. We have a great church. These are wonderful people to worship and fellowship with. But we can’t become complacent with that. There’s a whole world that needs to hear the gospel. We need to add to these ranks—not primarily to fight a culture war, but because if they’re not part of the church, they’re going to hell. We have the gospel that saves, and we need to take it to the world.
The world that Paul describes in 2 Timothy as being “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, without gentleness, without love for good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (3:2-4). We know that’s going to be the world around us as long as we live here.
But as is said in 2 Timothy 2:26, we are to correct our opponents with gentleness. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from a snare of the devil after being captured by Him to do His will.”
So let us together, by the instructions that are given to us by the Holy Spirit of God through this letter of 2 Timothy, guard the gospel and share in suffering for our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me read to you 2 Timothy 4:8 once again, and replace the word “me” with the word “us.” We would read it this way: “In the future there is laid up for [us] the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to [us] on that day, and not only to [us], but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith.
Samir Stephan Kujur says
Thanks. God Bless You!