Read the Passage: 2 Timothy 2
A Good Soldier (2:1–13)
As he had done at 1 Cor. 4:17, 1 Tim. 1:2, and 2 Tim. 1:2, so here at 2 Tim. 2:1 Paul again refers to Timothy as his “son.” Paul then exhorts Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). Observe that Paul does not encourage Timothy toward self-reliance but reminds him to lean on Jesus’ grace. Next, in 2 Tim. 2:2 Paul exhorts Timothy to pass on the doctrine—especially the gospel—that he’d heard over two decades of ministry that he’d spent with Paul. In 2 Tim. 2:3–7 Paul gives three illustrations to admonish Timothy, which are: a soldier who focuses on his task, an athlete who follows the rules, and a farmer who works with all diligence. The implication is that Timothy was to fixate on the work of the gospel, to obey the Scriptures, and to labor in ministry. In sum, Paul was calling Timothy to faithfulness, which is what God desires of us (cf. Matt. 25:14–30).
At 2 Tim. 2:8–13 Paul presents the ultimate model for Timothy to consider—that is, the example of Jesus. Just as Christ was rejected, persecuted, and killed, so Timothy could expect the same. Yet, just as Jesus was resurrected to glory, so Timothy could rejoice in the promise of eternal life. Moreover, Jesus’ resurrection was proof of the truthfulness of the message for which Timothy would be persecuted. Next, in mentioning his own chains at 2 Tim. 2:9, Paul reminded Timothy that “the word of God is not chained.” Indeed, throughout history, no one has been able to stem the tide of the growth of the Kingdom of God, which is what Jesus promised (cf. Matt. 13:31–35). In fact, history testifies to the fact that greater persecution of believers results in greater growth of the Kingdom. Paul’s encouragement to Timothy, then, consisted of appealing to both the truth and the effectiveness of the gospel.
An Approved Worker (2:14–19)
In 2 Tim. 2:14–16 Paul raises another illustration in order to encourage Timothy—that is, the picture of an approved worker. In this passage Paul refers to “strivings about words” (2 Tim. 2:14) and “profane and idle babblings” (2 Tim. 2:16). It seems here that in exhorting Timothy to good works and to “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), Paul had in mind the errors of the false teachers who were plaguing the Ephesian church. Note that Paul had earlier referred to the false teachers’ “fables . . . disputes . . . [and] idle talk” (1 Tim. 4:4, 6), their “profane . . . old wives’ fables” (1 Tim. 4:7), and their “disputes and arguments over words . . . [and] useless wranglings” (1 Tim. 6:4–5). While pastors, and all Christians, must always be ready to give an account of their faith (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15), the primary duty of a pastor is not to debate with every false teacher he encounters; rather, pastors are to teach the Word of God to the people of God. In so doing, Christians will be equipped to resist false teachers.
In his earlier letter to Timothy, Paul had identified two false teachers in the Ephesian church, whose names were Hymenaeus and Alexander (cf. 1 Tim. 1:20). Here at 2 Tim. 2:17, Paul again calls out Hymenaeus for his false teaching, but also mentions a man named Philetus. Nothing else is known about these heretics, but Paul does describe part of their error as “saying that the resurrection is already past” (2 Tim. 2:18). Like the false teachers in Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12), these heretics in Ephesus were likely teaching that the gospel’s promise of the resurrection is solely a spiritual resurrection that occurs when one puts their faith in Christ. This false teaching is the result of wedding Christian doctrine with Greek philosophy, which held that matter is inherently evil. In contrast, Scripture teaches that matter is good, albeit currently affected and infected by sin (cf. Gen. 1:31; Rom. 8:20).
An Honorable Vessel (2:20–26)
At 2 Tim. 2:20–21, Paul gives one last illustration to exhort Timothy toward godliness. Here Paul refers to honorable and dishonorable vessels. Honorable vessels, which were often made of precious metals, were used for noble purposes, such as serving food and decoration. Dishonorable vessels, which were often made of wood and clay, were used for ignoble purposes, such as holding trash and taking out waste. Paul reminds Timothy that he is an honorable vessel and, as such, he ought not to act in such a way that he would be confused as or contaminated by a dishonorable vessel. In 2 Tim. 2:22–26 Paul describes honorable behavior, which includes: (1) fleeing sin; (2) pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace; (3) avoiding disputes and quarrels; (4) being gentle, teachable, and patient; and (5) correcting others with humility, seeking their spiritual well-being. As believers keep on this good path, their Christ-likeness will grow and the Kingdom of God will spread.
- Can you identify Christians in your past who have be helpful to your spiritual growth by encouraging and exhorting you toward godliness?
- How can we tell if gospel ministry is effective? What types of things distract believers from effective Christian service and witness?
- Have you ever been mistreated because of your faith? Like Paul, how can we encourage those who are being persecuted because of the gospel?
- How can a Christian discern when it is best to engage false teaching and when it is better to shun false teachers, perhaps out of danger?
- Is the physical world inherently good or inherently evil? How might one’s view of the morality of matter affect the doctrine of the resurrection?