In this letter, Paul gives final exhortations to Timothy, encouraging him to be a faithful worker in the word of truth. The work will be difficult, but it will be worth it.
Strengthened by grace (verses 1-7)
Paul exhorts Timothy: You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. "Strong in grace" could have several meanings: 1) to be confident in God’s grace toward humanity, 2) to emphasize grace in preaching, or 3) emboldened by God’s grace, to be confident in all of life.
Paul knows that he is going to die, and Timothy will die, too. So Paul wants him to train some replacements, to create an expanding network of teachers: And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. This is a good principle for ministry today.
If God’s church had a foundation stone, what would be inscribed on it? Paul says it would have a promise, and a warning.
Timothy will encounter problems, persecution, and sometimes even boredom. Timothy needs to be mentally prepared for the challenges. So Paul reminds him that he needs to be committed: Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Timothy is not alone — he is enduring it "with us." And he is not working for himself — he is working for Christ.
No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer. It’s OK to be involved in secular affairs — Paul sometimes worked as a tentmaker — but Timothy should not be entangled in the secular world, looking there for his sense of self-worth. He is primarily a servant of Jesus, and he should seek to please Jesus, even if he has a secular job.
Paul moves to another metaphor: Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. Paul hints at a "victor’s crown" for Timothy, when the work is done the way his commander wants it done.
A third metaphor: The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Paul again hints that Timothy will receive something in return.
Paul was not the first to use soldiers, athletes and farmers as examples of diligence — various Greek writers used the same three metaphors. Paul uses this trio to point out that gospel work involves toughness, focus, obedience and hard work. He concludes by inviting Timothy to see himself in these metaphors: Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
The gospel (verses 8-13)
Paul now moves to another topic, and a different style. He begins with a pithy saying: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel… It’s about Jesus, summarized here by his resurrection and his role as Messiah in the line of David.
Paul sometimes gave more prominence to the crucifixion, but as he sat on death row, the resurrection might well grow in importance. And Jesus’ Davidic role may be what got Paul into the most legal trouble: he was proclaiming that Christ was king.
It is the gospel for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But ironically, God’s word is not chained. The work is still being done, because Paul gave the message to reliable workers who could teach many more.
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. Why should Timothy work hard and risk persecution? Earlier, Paul hinted at a reward. Here, he emphasizes the results it has for other people — he wants others to become aware of and grasp the salvation that is (already) in Christ. That is something he can feel good about forever: the reward is intrinsic to the work.
Paul includes another summary of the message — this one has rhythm to make it easier to remember. Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him (and we did), we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him (another hint of reward).
And what happens with the opposite extreme? If we disown him, he will also disown us. If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. In the first three pairs, we are like Christ. In the fourth, Paul breaks the parallelism: If there is any failure in the process, it is because we have rejected our Savior. If we follow him, we will get what we want: eternal glory. If we reject him, we will also get what we want: he will let us leave. His desire for us continues; the question is, whether we will continue to desire him.
Good work (verses 14-19)
In another change of style and topic, Paul begins to warn Timothy that some doctrinal discussions are a waste of time: Keep reminding them of these things — of the central truths of the gospel. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. What words were people arguing about? We do not know.
In contrast to fruitless arguments, Paul advises Timothy to do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Timothy needs to work with the gospel correctly, with no regrets when he presents himself to God.
The context, in the verse before and the verse after, is not people who refuse to work, but people who use the truth in a crooked way. They distort it, argue about irrelevant concepts, or go on and on without ever getting anywhere. So Paul advises, if you don’t want to be embarrassed, then avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Don’t waste your time with pointless discussions.
If we give them "equal time," their teaching will spread like gangrene. And then Paul gives a specific example: Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.
We are not sure how those two men got that idea. Maybe they took Paul’s idea that we are raised with Christ, to conclude that we already have all that God has to offer. That idea would not be very attractive to an apostle on death row! They probably thought their idea was the most important teaching in the church, but Paul says it was a waste of time, and it had caused some people reject Christianity.
Even though some people lead others astray, nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." The Greco-Roman world had many buildings with inscriptions.
If God’s church had a foundation stone, what would be inscribed on it? Paul says it would have a promise, and a warning. God will be faithful to his people, and his people need to stay away from sin. If we want the results of righteousness, we need to do what is righteous. We need to be faithful to our commanding officer.
A noble instrument (verses 20-26)
Paul turns from the building, to objects inside the building: In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. Some are fine dinnerware; others are good for scraping mud off your boots. Some are ornate decorations, and others are chamber pots.
But what is Paul’s point in this analogy? If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. There’s a good way to live, and a bad way. If we want the results of righteousness, then we need to put wrong ways out of our lives. So Paul advises Timothy to flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. All of us who follow Christ should love these virtues.
And then Paul returns for a third blast against fruitless disagreements: Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. Some people may try to divert your attention toward theirfavorite topic of disputation, but don’t take the bait.
The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Just teach the truth; don’t get involved in personal attacks (which were common in the ancient world; there was intense competition for status and honor, often at the cost of insulting and tearing down possible competitors).
Paul explains how to deal with enemies: Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. They have a distorted view of reality, and they unwittingly serve the devil’s purposes. But we do not condemn — we hope for the best, praying that God will eventually help them see the truth.
When personal resentment rises up within us, we need to respond not only with prayer for our opponent, but also prayer for ourselves, that we too might escape the trap of the devil.
Making it personal
Is my pastor training the next generation of leaders? (v. 2) Is there anything I can do to make it easier for my pastor to do that?
Do I feel like a soldier or an athlete working for Christ? (v. 5)
What does it mean for Christ to be faithful even to the faithless? (v. 13)
What is the most recent fruitless argument I have seen? (v. 14)
What “ignoble” activities reduce my usefulness to the Master? (v. 21)
The Greeks had a Word for it
Orthotomeō comes from orthos, meaning straight, and temnō, meaning to cut. We see ortho in English words such as orthodontist and orthodoxy; we see the root tom in words such as appendectomy and atom (something that supposedly could not be cut).
Literally, orthotomeō means to cut straight, a skill needed in tentmaking and other crafts. Paul uses the word in 2 Timothy 2:14 as a metaphor for accurate work in the "word of truth." The emphasis is accuracy, not surgery. Paul is not talking about dividing the truth, nor is he talking specifically about Scripture. Rather, he wants the gospel to be handled correctly, and that Timothy not be distracted away from its central truths.
The word is used in other Greek literature for cutting a road through a forest — the emphasis is on making a straight path, not on cutting the forest in two. In the context of 2 Timothy, Frederick Danker suggests that the word implies to "guide the word of truth along a straight path (like a road that goes straight to its goal), without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk" (Greek-English Lexicon [University of Chicago Press, 2000], 722).