2 Tim 2:1-26

Paul picks up the theme of suffering with a charge for Timothy to be strong in the grace of Christ Jesus and to entrust the message that he heard from Paul and many witnesses to faithful people. Timothy was to be strong in Christ. Personally, he was to suffer for the gospel. But he was also to invest himself in others just as Paul had done in Timothy. Paul instructs Timothy to focus his efforts on people who will be able to teach others. It’s a pyramid structure—a network. Just as my teacher’s teacher taught him, he also taught me, and I, too, taught my students in kind. From one person the instruction multiplies. Paul expects this case to be true for Timothy. His suffering is also to do the task before him, to teach and equip others to teach and equip others in turn despite the opposition.

Paul relates this concept to that of a solider, an athlete, and a farmer. A good soldier of Christ Jesus suffers. But how? I’m glad you asked! Let me tell you! According to Paul, the soldier do not involve himself in any day to day life activities that would interfere with his objective as a soldier with the result that he might please his commanding officer. The comparison here is that just as a soldier does not entangle in the day to day affairs and allow his primary objective to get distracted, so also must Timothy focus on the task ahead of him, to teach and equip others who will be able to do the same in kind. It is suffering because of the opposition. And like an athlete who competes fairly in accordance to the rules to win the wreath, so also must Timothy teach according to the rules—according to that which he heard from Paul and the many witnesses. Finally, as the tired farmer ought to receive his first share of the crops, so also must Timothy toil, labor, and work hard to teach others who will be able to teach even more. Paul instructs Timothy to consider these comparisons. Soldier. Athlete. Farmer. Timothy. Suffer. Teacher. His ministry is one of suffering by way of teaching, and it requires hard work, adherence to sound doctrine, and focus on the task at hand.

Not only is he to use his mind to think on these things and in so doing allow God to help him understand all things, but Timothy is also to use his mind to remember Jesus Christ, the one who has been raised and continues to be raised from among the dead. Paul instructs him to remember that Jesus Christ comes from the seed of David. Paul’s version of the gospel is that Christ is the royal descendent of King David. It is in this gospel that Paul is suffering hardship unto the point of being chained as a prisoner. Although Paul may be chained, the word of God is not able to be bound by chains or imprisoned and locked up. The gospel transcends physical barriers and bonds. For this reason, Paul states that he endures all things for the sake of the elect—God’s chosen ones—with the purpose that they might also find salvation that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul has gone on another tangent. Timothy is to remember Christ, the rightful kingly heir to the throne of David, the subject of the gospel. The tangent: the gospel, unlike Paul in his present circumstances, is not subject to chains or imprisonment and knowns no bounds; Paul endures his imprisonment for the sake of God’s chosen ones, in order that they might be saved. Paul is suffering for the gospel. Paul suffers because he knows that it might help further the kingdom of God, leading those who have been chosen to find salvation that comes from Christ. This salvation comes with eternal glory, the immortality that Christ brings with life while having abolished death.

Paul breaks out in a sort of hymn, saying, “This word is faithful.” The conditional statements here assume that the protasis, the initial clause (“if” phrase), is true for the presentation’s sake. If we have died with him, then we will also live with him. If we endure with him, then we will also reign with him. If we will deny him, then he will also deny us. If we are unfaithful, then he will remain faithful, for he is not able to deny himself. It is possible that this content was an actual hymn that Paul used or quoted here. Christ came and brought life through his death. But Christ is also the head of all creation; he is the ruler of all. Paul proclaims that we will also rule with Christ for having endured suffering with him. But if we disown Christ, to disclaim association with him, then he will treat us the same way. However, if we live unfaithfully, that is, we live without a sense of obligation unto Christ, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself. He is consistent when we may be inconsistent in the acting out of our faith. This hymn helps Paul to encourage Timothy in suffering for the gospel, as it provides more content for the things that he should be teaching to the capable teachers.

Paul instructs Timothy to remind the teachers of these things, of our position relative to Christ in death and life, endurance and reign, denial, or unfaithfulness. But Paul does not stop there. He charges Timothy to charge them before God not to split hairs over words. In other words, they were not to get into heated, perhaps violent, word disputes. Why? Because such disputes are pointless, fruitless endeavors that only harm those who hear them.

Paul instructs Timothy to make every effort to present himself to God as an approved man, an unashamed worker, one who guides the word of truth along a straight path. Paul is telling Timothy to strive for excellence in the sense of a approval—one that God would approve of. Such a person is not ashamed. Instead, that one rightly handles the word of truth.

Thus far, Paul tells Timothy to suffer for the gospel by God’s strength, to teach others to teach the gospel, to remember Christ, to charge the capable teachers not to wrangle over words, and to present himself to God as an unashamed worker, an approved man for rightly handling the word of truth.

Paul then exhorts Timothy to avoid profane chatter. Profane in this case bears the sense of pointless, empty, or worthless; chatter is simply empty talk. In this context of the letter, profane chatter is unhealthy teaching that is devoid of Christian content. Such teaching progresses further in impiety. Paul identifies two chief proponents of profane chatter, and they are Hymenaeus and Philetus. These two deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection had already happened. Such profane chatter is cancerous. As a result, they were upsetting the faith of some people. Yet, Paul affirms that God’s firm foundation has stood and continues to stand. This foundation is twofold. First, Num 16:5. Second, Sir 17:26 and Is 26:13.

In the first clause, Paul is clearly quoting Num 16:5. Interestingly enough, the context of Num 16 is a rebellion of Korah and 250 Levites against Aaron. The Lord made it abundantly clear that it would be Aaron, not the rebellious Korah and the Levites, who would perform the priestly duties in the Tabernacle. Within this context of rebellion, the Lord identified those who are his and who are holy—set apart—and who will be allowed to approach him. In the second clause, Paul opens with a phrase taken from Sir 17:26, “turn away from unrighteousness.” The context of Sir 17 here is repentance. The entire sentence reads as follows: “Return to the Most High and turn away from iniquity, and hate intensely what he abhors.” Also in the second clause, Paul seems to include part of Is 26:13, which reads, “Oh Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but we acknowledge your name alone.” This verse is to be read within the context of God as the Just One who approves of the righteous.

And so, while some are upsetting the faith of others, God, the Just One, is able to pick out amongst a sea of rebellious people those whom are his. Such ones as these, if they are to be approved as righteous, must turn away from unrighteousness. And the righteous are those who call upon the name of the Lord. Paul uses Torah to make his point and perhaps supplements it with other Jewish literature. But, really, Paul is applying this Torah to Timothy. It is Timothy, like Aaron, who is suffering due to the rebellious ones, but it is Timothy who is to rightly handle the word of truth and teach others.

Paul moves on to another analogy. Previously, he drew upon three professions: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. Now, Paul draws upon household utensils or vessels. Kitchenware, flatware, silverware. In a great house is not only goldenware and silverware but also woodenware and earthenware. Some of these vessels are used for honor and some for no honor. In other words, some serve special functions and others are regular, run-of-the-mill vessels. In this analogy, Paul states that if someone cleanses him or herself from these things, that is, splitting hairs (2 Tim 2:14) and profane chatter (2 Tim 2:16-18), then he or she will have been dedicated—made holy, set apart—useful to the master. Rather than invoking the judgment of God as did the sons of Korah, Timothy is to present himself to God as approved without being guilty of splitting hairs, which harms those who hear it, or participating in profane chatter, which leads into further irreverence for God, and so be declared righteous by God, and, as a result, become an instrument for God and so be used for his purposes and his plans, that is, to do good works.

Paul charges Timothy to run away and to run after. He exhorts him to run away from youthful desires. What are youthful desires? Desire here bears the connotation of a craving or lust, a desire for something forbidden or inordinate, such as sexual desires or the desires for gambling, drunkenness, or gluttony. Instead, he is to run after righteousness, faith, love, and peace. We all know that followers of God are to pursue righteousness. It stands to reason that all followers of God pursue faith. We know that Christ taught love as a key principle of discipleship, and Paul heralded love greater than faith. But peace? Paul instructs Timothy to pursue peace in the face of opposition and in the presence of quarrels. Timothy is to pursue these things along with the rest of those who call upon the Lord with a pure heart.

Paul adds to his previous charges to Timothy and instructs him also to avoid stupid and uneducated disputes. Just as Timothy should not wrangle over words or involve himself in profane chatter, he should not engage in stupid, uneducated, controversial questions or matters for dispute. Such disputes lead to quarrels—heated disputes or fights without the use of weapons. Paul is talking about fights that nearly come to blows. According to Paul, it is not fitting for the servant of the Lord to engage in such disputes. Instead, the servant must be kind, capable to teach, tolerant in the sense of patient or bearing evil without resentment, and able to correct opponents with gentleness. In other words, instead of engaging in heated arguments over silly, ignorant matters. Instead, due to one’s kind teaching and tolerant, gentle correction, the opposition might have an epiphany and come to repentance as well as the truth, breaking their captivity from the devil and his will. For Paul, starting such silly quarrels is an investment in the devil’s agenda. The devil is the main adversary of the Christian. The devil is a slanderer. His agenda is to slander Christians. He wants to use false statements and accusations against us to do us harm. When he gets us to do that towards each other, we carry out his will. When we embrace that mindset, then we are captive to his will. But with servants of the Lord such as Timothy, there is yet hope that these people will come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil.