Faithfulness or Apostasy

Be Persistent to the End

 

2 Timothy 4

 

Tom J. Nettles

 

 

I                      Urgency of a Word Centered Ministry 4:1-8

A  The clarity of Timothy’s present task  1-5

1        An impressive foundation -  Paul already has issued at least 20 imperatives in this letter;  Eleven [or more] of these directly impact his view toward Christian truth as issued in words.  He has told Timothy many important things:   “Kindle afresh the gift of God, Don’t be ashamed of the Testimony of our Lord, join me in suffering, retain the standard of sound words, guard the treasure entrusted to you, remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead etc., be diligent to present yourself approved to God, continue in the things you have learned”  He had told Timothy in 2:14 “earnestly charge them before God not to wrangle about words.”  With all these imperatives, and more, this one imperative recapitulates the seriousness and urgency of all of them.

2        The earnestness of the charge  1  All the more impressive, then is the intensity of this charge; for same verb see 1 Tim 5:21 accompanied by same modifiers.  In that passage, the issue was the selection and discipline of elders, the teaching ministry of the church.  Paul’s deep God-inspired commitment to the importance of each local church as the purveyor of divine truth and the guardian of the gospel cannot be sidestepped in biblical interpretation.  The church and its elders must see themselves as under divine authority and having no liberty to invent the church’s mission, its officers, its message, or its worship.  These are established in the Word.  To go beyond Scripture is to teach some “other doctrine” strictly forbidden by Paul [1 Tim 1:6].

(a)   Before God – This dismisses the influence of earthly pressure and the power of men for the ultimate fact of God as creator, sustainer, and all seeing – Lk. 12:1-12  Fear of man may drive many a minister to abbreviate his emphasis on some vital biblical truth.  External pressures can make one feel that he is answerable to man and not God.  God’s truth must never be a matter of human negotiation, political strategy, or denominational prudence.  We must be  brought to our senses and realize that nothing can be hidden from the eyes of him with whom we have to do [Hebrews 4:13]  It seems that Paul was accused of such trifling handling of the word, but he denied the charge vigorously and demonstrated his unalloyed commitment to the full truth of revelation in spite of human reticence about the exclusivity of his message [Galatians 1:9, 10].

(b)   Before the Lord Jesus Christ

(1)   Judge – cf. Hebrews 9:26-28; 10:26-31; John 5:22, 30 – Jesus has appeared once in humiliation to die for sinners and bring salvation  to the many whose sins he bore.  When he returns the issues of sin and salvation will be immutably set.  Both those who remain alive as well as those who have died will be judged by the Lord Jesus.  He himself will call all the dead forth from their graves and then judge them according to an absolute standard of righteousness as well as a variety of circumstances accompanying the different levels of revelation available to all persons.  To those whom he has quickened in spirit [John 5:22] and have, therefore, believed on him, there will be life eternal.  Paul’s admonition comes in light of the reality not only that Timothy will give an account to Jesus the judge, but that those who hear him will be judged and will also stand as witnesses either to his faithfulness or his compromise.

(2)   By His appearing – In 1:10, his first coming, by which he abolished death etc.; Titus 2:13, the second appearing in glory; 1 Tim 6:14, his second appearing; 2 Thes 2:8 – the glorious appearing of his coming when, by its splendor, he destroys the man of lawlessness.  A variety of circumstances and factors conspire to demote preaching from its true place of preeminence in the church.   When we are reminded , however, that Paul admonishes Timothy to preach and gives as impetus the glorious appearing of Christ, nothing should be able to diminish the splendor and power of such a prospect.

(3)   By His Kingdom – His future visible rule as well as his present rule through redemption and Providence.  Believers already are in his kingdom [Col 1:12-14] and are under his rule and his protection by the effectual working of his Spirit and the providential effecting of his purpose, established in covenant before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:11,12; Romans 8:28, 29). In his first appearing he established the “already” of his redemptive rule in demonstrating his wisdom to redeem (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”) and by his second appearing he manifests his infinitely great power to rule in visibly subduing all things to himself, including the glorification of our “vile bodies” (Philippians 3:20, 21)

3        The clarity of the command  2 –“Preach the word.”  No doubt as to what word he commends:  He has in mind, of course, the Old Testament writings as well as the apostolic deposit of faith that Timothy learned from Paul and that he was responsible for passing on to others [2:1, 2; 3:10, 14].  By this time Peter could commend in writing Paul’s letters as containing instruction consonant with his, but more tightly reasoned and deeply grounded, put in the class of Scripture [2 Peter 3:1, 2 14-18].  Many feel that other sources of instruction beyond Scripture may interest people more.  New curriculums employing TV sitcoms, popular books, and movies make their appeal to certain crowds.  Paul would have none of this, however, and insisted in the most solemn terms that the content of teaching and proclamation was the Word.

(a)   Stand upon it when it is opportune and not opportune, responsive or unresponsive, good times or no-times.  The affections of an age or of a particular culture shall not woo the faithful minister away from his commanded task.  Paul did not expect Timothy to take a poll to discover if people wanted word-centered instruction; the content of proclamation is determined from above, not below.  No amount of disfavor may dissuade one from preaching the word.  This is not negotiable, it is commanded even if the time is not ripe for it.  Jesus even preached to the spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:16-20].  He announced his victory over sin and death, and all enemies of truth, to those, both demons and men, who opposed the preacher of righteousness, Noah.  Noah’s truth, so seemingly incredible in his time, so alien to the world’s view of God, sin holiness, judgment, finally has full vindication though the time in which he proclaimed it was ‘inopportune.”

(b)     Faithful exposition leads one to reprove, rebuke and exhort:  Reprove refers to the correction of error as well as men for their error.  Knowledge of scriptural truth in a comprehensive and coherently arranged order necessarily gives foundation to this important pastoral task.  Rebuke refers to confrontation, whether gentle or severe, for sin.  Some of this must be done privately but at times public rebuke is demanded by the nature of the offence.  Exhort is the positive encouragement in duties of love to God and love to neighbor and also consolation in times of trouble and distress.  Sometimes one must be a Boanerges, son of thunder, and at other times a Barnabas, son of consolation.

(c)    Effectiveness requires patience, long-burning and genuine instruction.  Patience without instruction creates laxness and an effete Christianity.  Instruction without patience tends to frustration, unnecessary confrontation, discouragement and a loss of pastoral sympathy.

4        Distressing Temptations to Ignore the command  3, 4 “For the time will come;”   “For;” The urgency of the above instructions is increased by the reality that Christian truth will be challenged, ignored, and amended by those who can not stomach its power.  Paul foresees one of the inopportune seasons, the no-time.  The time came soon, as Paul already has dealt with doctrinal deviation in several of his letters, here in chapter 2, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians;  The apostle John confronts this throughout his epistolary correspondence and gives severe warnings against aiding false teachers in any way [2 John].  Peter also foresaw this and confronted it in person. [2 Peter].  Our Lord dealt with this in his earthly ministry.  Even in his presence some preferred easier doctrine [John 6:27-29, 41-45, 52-58, 60-65, 66-71]

(a)   Obnoxious to sound doctrine – Paul already has admonished Timothy to hold fast the form of sound words, whole words, words that need no correction.  Now he speaks of those who cannot endure whole, comprehensive, coherent, fully biblical doctrine.  The depravity of men causes them to reject the doctrine of depravity and their corruption and helplessness makes them eschew the gospel of grace that is their only help.

(b)   Seekers of teachers to say pleasing things – play on words;   They can not endure the curative qualities of sound didaskalia [teaching or doctrine] so they seek didaskalous [teachers] palatable to their tastes in their sickness unto death.  These teachers say pleasing things congenial to the ears of those who have bought them.

(c)    Turn away from truth, to fables – on the one hand they have their ears tickled by those same ears turn away from the truth.

5        Don’t Fall  5  Falling comes when calling declines, therefore

(a)   Be sober, that is, clear headed and serious minded about all things; don’t be deluded by the immediate fashionableness of an idea.  Maintain a clear feeling for the seriousness of Christ’s judgment of the living and the dead.  “He carries on with his exhortation to make sure that the more grievous the troubles, the more conscientiously will Timothy labour to cure them, and the more pressing the dangers, the more intently will he keep watch.” [Calvin]

(b)   Suffer hardship rather than surrender truth – summary of 2:3-7 and also 1:8.  Timothy is not invited to a life of ease and comfort.  The gospel is a head on collision with the world.  The world is moving to hell and its speed and momentum witnesses to its delight in hellish things.  The heavenly-minded consistently run counter to this direction, reject the driving force behind it, seek to alter the direction of those caught in the speedy thrill of a roller coaster ride that crashes into perdition.  Every earnest Christian becomes a “partaker of the afflictions of the gospel.”

(c)    “Do the work of an evangelist” Continue his focus on the Christ-centered gospel preaching – 1:8-11; 2:8.  Paul probably has in mind the “evangelist” as one of the specific offices of Ephesians 4:11.  If it is true that Paul has recognized in Timothy and has set him aside as a prophet [1:6], then he also may perform the work of an evangelist.  The apostle may do the work of a prophet, an evangelist, and a pastor-teacher; the prophet may do the work of an evangelist, and a pastor teacher.  The evangelists may do the work also of a pastor teacher.  In certain cases specific qualifications rule otherwise [Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:11, 12]

(d)     Do not omit any part of your ministry – “Fulfill your ministry” [KJV – “make full proof”]He wanted Timothy to enjoy the same satisfaction and confidence at the end of his life that Paul now experienced.  He was to prophesy, do the work of an evangelist, serve as a pastor teacher, and all with such a view of honoring Christ and emulating him that he also would join Paul in serving joyfully through affliction for the cause of the gospel.  There is more joy in the afflictions of a Christian than in the greatest prosperity, unmixed with affliction, that the world may provide.  See Psalm 4:7 – “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”

 

B       The end of Paul’s ministry  6-8 – “For” - Paul gives an urgent reason for Timothy to fulfill his ministry and to give such close attention to the word.

1        His realization of an impending martyrdom  6 {also see comments on verses 17, 18 below] “Ready to be offered”  That is, already being offered;  Paul views his sacrifice through martyrdom as the ratification of the truth of the new covenant that he has preached and as sealing the certainty that God has included the Gentiles in the messianic covenant [Phil 2:16-18 where he uses the same word for his sacrifice as a seal on the sacrificial offering he gives to God of the faith of the Gentiles.]  The same idea of the Gentiles covenantal status through the sacrifice of Christ is seen in Ephesians 2:11-19; also 2 Corinthians 1:5, 6 for the apostolic suffering that the Gentiles would be included combined with 3:4-5:21; Paul suffered and presents his martyrdom as a sacrifice poured over that which he offers in giving up the Gentiles to God.  All of this is the necessary and concomitant means by which the certainty of Christ’s sacrificial and reconciling work gains its full application for all of those for whom he has given himself as a sin offering [2 Cor 5:21]. and the time of his departure has come, his loosing from the present order of things and the present calling. When he considered this possibility in the letter to the Philippians he concluded that though he had a desire to “depart” and be with Christ, there was yet more that his apostolic calling demanded of him here. Phil 1 :23 “Having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” uses the same word for depart as here in 2 Tim 4:6,” It is used in the passive in Acts 16:26 when by the earthquake “everyone’s bonds were unfastened.” He was not unfastened from this life before, but now, he senses that the time of unfastening has come. The time for the fulfillment of his desire to be with Christ, whose glory he has seen so profoundly, whose excellence forced from his affections their attachment to earthly greatness. Soon he would be unloosed from suffering, unloosed from the emotionally grinding daily care of the churches, unloosed from the attacks of false teachers, unloosed from the disappointments of trusted earthly companions, unloosed from the threats of Jewish religious leaders and the Roman political machine. His pressing “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” would soon be attained.

2        Confidence of a stewardship fully executed -  This involves three things.  One, He has fought a good fight—everything that has exalted itself against Christ he has brought captive, not with carnal weapons but with those provided by the Spirit cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-6 and Ephesians 6:10-20.  Two, he has finished his course.  Paul did not run in vain as an apostle (Galatians 2:2; Phil 2:16) but both his message and the result of his message was consistent with that calling (1 Cor 9:1, 2). Nor did he manifest merely external gifts and fruit, but kept himself under control, running with purpose in fulfilling the calling as a Christian even as he preached the gospel fulfilling the calling as an apostle. [1 Cor 9:24-27].  Three, he has kept the faith, both that which was granted him in Christ Jesus when he found in Christ an excellence above all personal qualifications [Phil. 3:8, 9] as well as that deposit of faith that consists of precious revealed truths that, under the power of the Spirit, transform the elect from one degree of glory to another.

3        A clear view of the Future -  Paul sees clearly that God will grant him that for which he initially set him aside [1 Timothy 1:11, 12]  God rewards Paul in accord with the gifts of His own gracious working within him.  He counted him faithful, that is accounted from the beginning that Paul would be set aside for justification and would demonstrate the true nature of faith through the severe challenges experienced throughout life.  God gave him faith and all concomitant graces to show that it was genuine, tested and proved, and now, by that same grace he will grant the crown of righteousness. 

4        God does not surrender his righteousness in this, but demonstrates in this reward the same justice he manifested in the propitiatory offering of Christ [Romans 3:25, 26], for the one granting this crown is the “righteous judge.” God’s merciful provision to sinners and the exuberant status of joy he grants them is not an expression of mercy in disregard of righteousness, but is all the more full because it is based on righteousness, the eternal life that is the result of a perfectly fulfilled Law. This phrase, “the crown of righteousness” could signify the crown that is righteousness or the crown that comes as a result of being declared righteous.  No contradiction exists in the ideas but they certainly are tied to each other. 

5        The encouraging words that follow (“not only to me”) show that such confidence comes not only to an apostle of Paul’s stature and suffering, but for all those that love the appearing of Christ.  Love does not save or justify; faith-only fits the declaration of justification.  Love always is imperfect and in our present state cannot fulfill the Law.  Though it does not exist perfectly, however, it exists in truth and is the spirit-wrought foundation for true faith.  Faith cannot exist where love of Christ’s righteousness does not precede.  This is why the new birth is necessary and why faith works by love [Galatians 5:5, 6]

II                   Some Personal Concerns 9-18

A       The particular care Paul needs from Timothy emphasized in verses 9, 13, 21  While in this life, though he is on the verge of departing it, Paul needs to take advantage of all the means provided for a continued witness and physical well-being.  The cloak he needs for winter is on the way.  The parchments for his continued study.  Perhaps some of these, ta biblia, papyrus rolls, would have been his own letters and the parchments, membranas, would have been Old Testament books.  We are never, even on the verge of death, beyond the need for study of the word of God to fit our souls for entering into his presence.  Obviously the cloak for which he asked, one of his few earthly possessions, he needed for warmth as winter approached (21).In addition, Paul desires the presence of Timothy himself.  Truly Paul had no one else like him and others had now left or were on other missions.

 

B       Observations Paul makes about personal relations

1        Demas forsook the work for the sake of the world – for Demas see Philemon 24 and Col 4:14.  We perhaps cannot conclude with absolute certainty the status of Demas, but it appears that his is a Hebrews 6:1-8 example. My! What had Demas seen in accompanying Paul? Conversions, faithfulness of the apostle under extreme pressure, works of the Spirit as he demonstrated the signs of an apostle, and inspired proclamation of what would be canonical truth in perpetuity until the day of Christ. Yet none of this sufficed for genuine conversion without the internal work of the Spirit to give him the conviction that his citizenship was not in this world but in Heaven from which he awaited a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Failing to se the difference between the corruptible, perishing present order and the infinitely glorious unchanging future order, Demas love this present world, the “now age.” How sad, but so will we all unless omnipotent grace transforms our vision and our love.

2        Some have gone to other tasks – Crescens went to Galatia, hopefully not as a deserter, but on mission to minister to the Galatian churches. Titus, “my true child in a common faith,” went to Dalmatia, again, probably with an assignment like the one he had to Crete

3        Luke is with him, the faithful companion and careful observer of what Paul did and said from his deployment to Macedonia in Acts 16:10 to the time of his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:16)

4        Mark is reclaimed – See Acts 12:12; 13:13; 15:36-41.

5        Tychicus has been sent to Ephesus; He was an Asian who accompanied Paul in his rapid movements recorded n Acts 20 1-6. He was a faithful that could give an accurate account of Paul’s work and was called a “beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord (Colossians 4:7). Paul also sent him to Crete to relieve Titus (Titus 3:12)

6        Alexander has aggressively opposed the message. Cf. 1 Tim 1:20 – Paul seems convinced that he is dangerous to the faith and to believers as well. As then, so now, the chief danger from any enemy is opposition to revealed truth. Any that would oppose the message of Paul, oppose God and the well-being of his people.

C       Paul on Trial

1        Abandoned by human support at his defense 16 -  See the Lord’s promise to Paul Acts 23:11 and the consequent time of witness in Rome Acts 28:28-31. It is difficult to ascertain all that are included in this. Does this refer to Luke who was “with him?’ It probably was the occasion on which Demas departed. It is harder to tell if this included Crescens and Titus, but to me it seems unlikely.

2        Divine intervention  17 –Nevertheless, though human support failed, Paul recognized that he had been given courage, clarity, and perseverance n the moment of  ultimate testing by the operation of the grace of God. Again, Pal recognizes that this strength is not that Paul might be glorified, but that the specific task to which he was called might be completed to the glory of God. It is possible that this indicates that Paul would have one more journey (“so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the Lion’s mouth”) to reach a Gentile center that he had not yet evangelized. If son the narrative of 6-8, would have to be seen as an unchanging abiding confidence of Paul, not necessarily a revealed awareness that his martyrdom was the sure outcome of this imprisonment.

3        Paul’s confidence in ultimate preservation 18 -  This is a striking confidence in light of Paul’s realization that martyrdom is just around the corner, or at least, inevitable as soon as his divine assignment reaches conclusion.  He is not concerned finally about temporal preservation except as it relates to finishing his task, but he is concerned that all the evil opposition not deter him from the purity of his devotion to Christ and the gospel.  By whatever path God leads him to the eternal kingdom, Paul is satisfied, as long as the destination is eternal life under the immediate and glorious rule of Christ.

 

III.               Final Greetings -  In spite of many who forsook him, Paul maintained knowledge of those who remained faithful to the gospel and to the tasks assigned them by the Lord. How warmly we are reminded of the joy and comfort of Christian brotherhood. Friendship built on a common salvation and a fellowship of mind on the doctrines of the grace of God form a foundation for friendship of the most enduring and endearing sort (3 John 15).

 

IV.              Observations on  correspondence to Timothy [gathered from the close of 1 Timothy 6] with some additions.

 

A       The heaviest burden and most pervasively applied concern is the importance of the bishop/elder for the orderly, God-ordained growth and holiness of the church.  His gender, his selection, his maintenance, his discipline, his public function with the whole church, his private relations with individual members, his task of teaching both publicly and privately for correction of a variety of errors both in conduct and doctrine, and the importance of his personal growth in knowledge, skill, and holiness are interweaved throughout the letter.

 

B       Orthodox teaching arising from absolute reliance on divine revelation for its content and emphasis is set beside teaching of purely human generation.  The church should be nurtured on one and avoid the other.  2 Timothy re-emphasizes this warns repeatedly against “other teaching” that is teaching not generated through the apostolic office.

 

C       We will have the abiding reality of “professors” of the faith that fall away and at times even become inveterate enemies of the faith.  Others, however, might be reclaimed after having fallen dangerously close to an irremediable condition [cf. 1 John 5:16]

 

D      The goodness of the present order as having come from God combined with a recognition of its present condition of passing away should instruct Christians as to how to live with present enjoyment and godly use of the world while looking forward to eternal life.  That which drives their right understand and affection for both of these is their desire for the glory of God.  The closing thoughts of 2 Timothy give increased clarity to this phenomenon as Paul considers present life in the face of impending death.

 

E       The church has an elevated place of importance as the Household of God, the community in which God’s truth about himself is invested.  Church order, therefore, has eternal implications.  Appropriately ordered relationships inside the church as well as relationships of integrity toward outsiders give godly shape to the body of believers.  Bishops, deacons, husbands, wives, children, teaching of truth and passing it on in pure form all are concerns of the apostles’ instruction.

 

F        The right use of the Law in its relationship to the Gospel is another important element of teaching.  The power of the Law’s moral implications gives definition to the content of the Gospel, the nature of saving faith, and the advance in godliness.

G      Confidence for ministry comes from clear views of divine sovereignty and God’s faithfulness to his own purposes.  It is for the elect that Paul suffers and his confidence that the Lord knows those who are his gives him confidence that the gospel finally will not fail to accomplish its purpose, and so his own labors cannot be in vain (2:10, 19).

 

H      1 Timothy follows the New Testament pattern of Christocentric Trinitarianism in his Theology proper.  Specific entailments of each person of the Trinity inform the discussion at those points peculiar to the operations of that divine person, but the whole concentrates on and culminates in Christ.  This Christocentrism continues strongly in 2 Timothy [e.g. 1:9, 10] which ends with the blessing “The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”