Read the Passage: 2 Timothy 1
Authorship and Date – Timothy, who was from the city of Lystra in Galatia (cf. Acts 16:1–3), had been led to Christ by Paul, likely on Paul’s first missionary journey (cf. Acts 14:8–18). We learn in the book of Acts that Timothy’s mother was Jewish, and his father was Greek. On Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy joined Paul’s ministry team, essentially serving as Paul’s protégé for the rest of the apostle’s life. In addition to appearing with Paul throughout the book of Acts, Timothy is mentioned by name in seven of Paul’s epistles, plus the two letters that bear his name (cf. Rom. 16:21; 2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Phile. 1). The book of 2 Timothy was written by Paul from a Roman prison, likely between AD 65–66, as Paul awaited to be executed, which likely occurred around AD 67. Since this letter was only written a few years after the book of 1 Timothy, it is probable that Timothy was still overseeing the church in Ephesus as Paul wrote to him. Note that the book of 2 Timothy is the last of Paul’s thirteen canonical letters.
Purposes and Theme – After being released from his first Roman imprisonment around AD 60–62, Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Crete in order to revisit and to strengthen the churches he’d started earlier, as well as to share the gospel. Despite several years of freedom, Paul was re-arrested when Nero began persecuting Christians, which commenced in AD 64. Whereas Paul’s first Roman imprisonment was in a rented house (cf. Acts 28:30), where he’d met with others, and foresaw his eventual release (cf. Phil. 1:25–26); as he wrote 2 Timothy, Paul was in a dungeon, forsaken by most of his friends, and he anticipated his imminent execution. Like his earlier epistle to Timothy, Paul’s second letter to his young protégé is very practical in nature. A difference, however, is that whereas 1 Timothy largely instructed Timothy in how to pastor the church in Ephesus, 2 Timothy is more personal in nature. In this epistle Paul admonishes and exhorts Timothy in the Christian faith, seeking to prepare him for useful service after Paul’s imminent demise.
Structure and Outline – The book of 2 Timothy is practical in its content and thus less structured than some of Paul’s more doctrinally-oriented letters. This intimate, personal epistle can be outlined thematically as follows:
- Persevering in Faith (1:1–2:26)
- Facing Apostasy (3:1–15)
- Preaching the Word (3:16–4:5)
- Paul’s Situation (4:6–18)
- Concluding Farewell (4:19–22)
Paul’s Greeting (1:1–7)
Given the present persecution of Christians by emperor Nero, many Christians had become fearful for their lives. It seems that Timothy, who may have been timid by nature (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12–14), may have been shrinking back from his pastoral duties and/or been generally weakened in his faith. Therefore, in this letter Paul repeatedly admonishes Timothy in the faith, giving roughly 25 imperatives in this epistle to his young protégé. Paul begins this letter calling Timothy his “beloved son” (2 Tim. 1:2), as well as by reminding Timothy of his constant prayers for him (cf. 2 Tim. 1:3–4). Next, Paul reminds Timothy of his own faith, which had been present in three family generations (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5). Finally, Paul admonishes Timothy to “stir up the gift of God which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). This is surely a reference to Timothy’s spiritual gifts of preaching, teaching, and evangelism.
God’s Grace (1:8–12)
In 2 Tim. 1:8 Paul exhorts Timothy to not be ashamed of the gospel nor of Christian brethren—namely, Paul himself. Indeed, Paul invites Timothy to share in his sufferings, which could result from openly sharing the gospel and/or identifying with believers. In 2 Tim. 1:9–10 Paul reminds Timothy that God is sovereign over all things, the good and the bad, and is unfolding a plan according to His own purpose and grace. Paul even incredibly refers to the “grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:9; cf. Eph. 1:3–6). Then, still admonishing Timothy, Paul writes that Jesus has abolished death and brought immortality. This is not to say that believers will not physically die; rather, it is to teach that death is not a threat to believers, as it has lost its power to separate believers from God, for to die is to enter into the presence of Christ.
Timothy’s Faith (1:13–18)
In 2 Tim. 1:12 Paul implicitly held himself up, as an example, in order to encourage Timothy. At 2 Tim. 1:13–14 Paul explicitly appealed to his pattern of life, as he admonished Timothy toward faithfulness. The “good thing” (2 Tim. 1:14) to which Paul refers is the gospel message. As he’ll explain in 2 Tim. 2:1–13, Paul is especially concerned that Timothy protect and pass on the gospel to others, for it is a spiritual stewardship. In 2 Tim. 1:15–18 Paul references three men about whom little is known apart from this passage. Phygellus and Hermogenes apparently showed promise of leadership, but later deserted Paul. Onesiphorus, who is also mentioned at 2 Tim. 4:19, was a co-worker of Paul from Ephesus, who sought Paul out in Rome, and remained loyal despite the personal cost of being seen ministering to a Christian prisoner.
- What do you know about this epistle? How do the Pastoral Epistles compare to one another? What verses from 2 Timothy have been helpful to you in the past?
- What could Timothy do to stir up his spiritual gifts? What responsibility do we have to stir up the gifts of others in the church (cf. Heb. 10:24)?
- What does Paul mean in writing that “Jesus Christ . . . has abolished death” (2 Tim. 1:10)? If death has been abolished, why do we still die?
- Would you be comfortable, like Paul, urging others to follow your example? What steps can we take to be sure that our words and actions align with each other?
- Like Paul, do you are a Titus in your life? That is, do you have those among your circles of friends who could carry on the ministry apart from your presence?