Paul’s Last Words – 2 Timothy 4
Read the Passage: 2 Timothy 4
Ministry Exhortation (4:1–5)
As Paul had been doing throughout his two letters to Timothy, so here in 2 Tim. 4:1–2 Paul again exhorted Timothy, “Preach the Word!” Paul also highlights the importance of this charge as he calls God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to witness his exhortation to Timothy. Since he refers to Jesus’ judgment of mankind in this passage, Paul’s calling of the Father and the Son to observe his exhortation is likely a judicial maneuver, as two or three witnesses were required in legal matters (cf. Deut. 17:6; Matt. 18:16). Paul’s statement about Jesus’ judgment “at His appearing and His kingdom” is a reference to the general judgment of all mankind when Christ returns (cf. 1 Cor. 3:12–15; 2 Cor. 5:9–11). The idea here is that Timothy was to keep in mind the fact that God would hold him accountable for his stewardship of his spiritual gifts, as well as for his Christian service.
While the Word of God can convince, rebuke, and exhort mankind, in 2 Tim. 4:3–5 Paul reminds Timothy that in the fallen world, many will not receive the gospel message. Indeed, many people will be attracted to the benefits of Christianity, but will not want to depart from their sins. Therefore, being led by “their own [sinful] desires . . . they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn their ears away from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). These heretics will preach a man-centered gospel that asserts the inherent goodness of man, offers forgiveness without repentance, and promises much while requiring little. Paul refers to such false teaching as “fables” (2 Tim. 4:4), a term he uses four times in the Pastoral Epistles in regard to false doctrine (cf. 1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; Titus 1:14). In contrast to these heretics, Timothy was to patiently do the work of an evangelist.
Personal Update (4:6–16)
In the remaining verses of this book, Paul gives a personal update to Timothy. He begins by disclosing that he knew his death was imminent, writing, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:6). Paul’s reference to himself as a drink offering is significant, as the drink offering, which was part of the sacrificial system, was usually offered after other offerings, such as the burnt and grain offerings (cf. Num. 15:1–10). Having referred to his present state at 2 Tim. 4:6, in 2 Tim. 4:7 Paul recalls his past ministry. Here Paul essentially concludes that his life was complete, for he’d been faithful and had finished the race Jesus had set before him. In 2 Tim. 4:8 Paul looks forward to the future, as he anticipates the reward of righteousness that he will receive when he is finally and fully glorified in the presence of Christ.
In 2 Tim. 4:9–16 Paul mentions and gives updates on 8 different men with whom he’d had contact, some for the better, some for the worse. These men are: (1) Demas, who’d been a ministry companion (cf. Col. 4:14; Phile 24), but had proven to be an apostate; (2) Crescens, about whom nothing else is known, had been sent by Paul to Galatia; (3) Titus, the recipient of the book that bears his name, had been sent by Paul to Dalmatia; (4) Luke, who was then present with Paul, likely tending to his medical needs; (5) Mark, who at one time had abandoned Paul (cf. Acts 13:13) and was now a valuable Christian co-worker (cf. Col. 4:10; Phile 24) whom Paul desired to see in Rome; (6) Tychicus, Paul’s frequent messenger (cf. Eph. 6:12; Col. 4:7) who had been sent by Paul to Ephesus; (7) Carpus, who is otherwise unknown, who had Paul’s cloak in Troas; and (8) Alexander, who had done Paul much harm.
Divine Encouragement (4:17–22)
Although no one stood with Paul during his arraignment, Paul writes, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthen me” (2 Tim. 4:17). While Paul may be speaking spiritually (cf. Deut. 31:6), he could also be speaking about a literal manifestation of Christ, as he’d experienced such in a prior imprisonment (cf. Acts 23:11). In writing that he was “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17), Paul could be referring his victory over Satan (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8), or he could be referring to his avoidance of being included in the gladiatorial games. Note that Paul’s hope of deliverance (cf. 2 Tim. 4:18) is not necessarily a confidence that he’d be released from prison, but rather is an expression of Paul’s assurance that death his would result in his being ushered into Jesus’ presence. In conclusion, in 2 Tim. 4:19–22 Paul gives updates on eight additional individuals whom he had not mentioned in 2 Tim. 4:9–16.
- If you knew that your death was imminent and you could only write one last letter, to whom would you write and what would you say?
- What makes false teaching so attractive? Why don’t all those who reject biblical truth just deny the faith and depart from the church?
- What can believers do to ensure that, like Paul, they can finish the Christian life well? Why do many believers not finish life well?
- Are most Christian workers known outside of their circles of ministry? Why do many people spend time trying to achieve fame and celebrity status?
- Given Paul’s dire circumstances, how could he be confident of future deliverance? How does God usually deliver His saints from trials and suffering?