The second half of this letter picks up where the previous discussion had left. Timothy, after being commended for his holiness of life and charged to be a peaceful and patient worker, is confronted with the reality that there will be those among his fellow workers those who "have the appearance of godliness but deny its power" (2 Tim 3:5). Since the church's foundation is Christ and his humility and patience, Paul does not instruct Timothy to openly oppose such people but merely to avoid them, such that their corruption can be clearly seen and the falseness of their conversion demonstrated.
Paul makes a striking judgement regarding such people, saying they are 'disqualified regarding the faith' (2 Tim 3:8). Is this a contradiction of grace? Paul says elsewhere that 'by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God's] sight' (Romans 3:20). Does this mean that by our works we can lose that justification which had been attained by grace through faith? In his previous letter to Timothy, Paul gives strict instruction about the quality of character of those Timothy should be ordaining as Elders and Deacons. This kind of holiness is however not an achievement to be boasted in or worked toward, rather this is the reasonable expectation of the fruit of the Holy Spirit which grows in the person who trusts in Jesus' resurrection power. One does not earn salvation or even earn the right to minister to the people of God, rather the Spirit of God equips some with holiness of life and patient endurance in order to serve the wider people of God. Grace therefore is not seen by Paul as a carte blanche for anyone to do anything in the church, rather grace is the means by which some are set aside for ministry to serve and be an example to the people of God. If there is no fruit present in a person's life then the church cannot be assured of that person's knowledge of the Gospel. Or as James agrees, faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
The remedy prescribed by Paul is that Timothy remain committed to the message of the Scriptures and of the Gospel of Jesus. He does not suggest Timothy become judgmental or demanding of moral perfection, but asks Timothy and subsequently all Christians to patiently endure suffering in pursuit of Christ.
Paul's personal note at the end of this letter is an intriguing insight into the reality of the Early Church, how even in this first generation of disciples some had arisen who were in some way misunderstanding of the Gospel or worse were willfully harmful to others. As always Paul attributes any success to the power of God, since he of course has already surrendered all other kinds of power. It could be said of Paul's life that the life of a saint is not one of earning and success but of trust and surrender. Sometimes Paul experiences miraculous breakthroughs for the Gospel and other times painful persecution. Yet his commitment to the resurrection life of Jesus marks his life as one of obedience, allowing him to endure all these things for the sake of the 'heavenly kingdom' (2 Tim 4:18).
3 Formation Questions
- Which part of Paul's words to Timothy strike you most? Are you confronted by a spiritual or moral reality which you had previously ignored? Are you encouraged by anything?
- How might you walk into the holiness and patience of life which Paul sees as a possibility through the Gospel? How can you be strengthened by its grace?
- Who seems to conform to the pattern of Timothy's life or who conforms to the pattern of his opponents? How might you reach them with a word of encouragement?