This second letter from Paul to Timothy is much beloved by many readers due to it's heartfelt and earnest encouragement to Timothy which is not only considered a grounding for the practice of ordained ministry, but also a great encouragement for all Christians in the midst of their lives of witness and worship. Unlike Paul's other letters to the 'Romans' or 'Galatians', the doctrines and practices are being given to the early church Pastors in particular, implying that their role as teachers and exemplars of the Gospel is key to the health and wellbeing, and indeed witness of the Church at large.
In this letter we learn a lot about Paul and his situation as well as Timothy's background and current trials. Paul is reassuringly nonspecific about the nature of Timothy's difficulty, allowing his encouragement to be applicable to many readers, even readers today. This implies an awareness that this personally addressed letter was to be used for a long time, far and wide, to shape the church and specifically to encourage its ministers.
Paul's comforting word to Timothy is rooted in his experience of rejection on account of the Gospel and the reality that the Gospel abolished death and 'brought life and immortality to light' (1 Tim 1:10). In the previous letter Paul expounded the wonderful effect of the Gospel especially as it gave resources to widows without a hope. However Paul knows that these miraculous first fruits of Christ's reign are not nearly as certain as the resurrection of Christ, of which there were living witnesses.
After sharing the news of those who have deserted him in Asia, Paul charges Timothy to be encouraged by the 'grace that is in Christ Jesus' (2 tim 2:1). The reality is that there are those who heard Paul's preaching and did not find the grace of Christ. Perhaps they were unwilling to look forward to the coming reign of God, or they did not understand the significance of Jesus' resurrection to the extent of the Apostles. Therefore Timothy is instructed to pass on the responsibility of preaching and teaching this message of the Gospel to 'faithful men', whose lives reflect the reality of the Gospel. In the contemporary experience of Paul and Timothy this might mean those who continue to be part of the Church when persecution arises. For readers in 2015 such a distinction is a little more difficult to discern, when believing the Gospel does not necessarily land the believer in chains.
This distinction between the faithful and the unfaithful in the Christian community, between those who devote themselves to 'irreverent babble' and those who clearly set forth the Gospel ought not result in arguments or dissension. Therefore Paul asks Timothy to be mature about these things, fleeing 'youthful passions' and pursuing peace (2 Tim 2:22). By being such a figure of peace, creating unity and stability in the church Paul is suggesting that it is better for those who are mistaken about the Gospel to be welcomed into the church in the hope that they will come into a right understanding and thus be saved.
3 Formation Questions
- What did you find remarkable about this passage?
- How might Paul's charge to Timothy encourage or challenge you, especially in how you treat other believers?
- Who could you reach out to, who might have a distorted or mistaken understanding of the Gospel?