TAKE HOLD OF ENDURANCE

 

Week of October 29, 2006

 

Bible Passages:  2 Timothy 3:1, 10-17; 4:5-8.

 

Biblical Truth: When God gives a person an opportunity to lead, He also encourages and empowers the person to lead.

 

Expect Difficult Times: 2 Timothy 3:1, 10-13.

 

[1] But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. [10] Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, [11] persecutions, and  sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! [12] Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. [13] But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  [NASU]

 

[1]  Why does Paul introduce this chapter with such an emphatic command to Timothy to realize this? After all, the existence of active opposition to the gospel was evident. And earlier in the letter Paul has urged his young friend not to be ashamed of the gospel, but to take his share of suffering as Christ’s good soldier; has reminded him that he must endure with Christ if he hopes one day to reign with Him; and has warned him that behind the worldly and empty chatter and the foolish and ignorant speculations spread by false teachers there lurks the evil figure of the devil himself [1:8; 2:3,11-12,14,16,23,26]. So why does Paul enjoin Timothy to understand what he already knows?  Surely because he wants to emphasize that opposition to the truth is not a passing situation, but a permanent characteristic of the age. We too should realize this and be quite clear about the perils and troubles which will beset us if we stand firm in the truth of the gospel. Next, Paul refers to the last days. It may seem natural to apply this term to a future epoch, to the days immediately preceding the end when Christ returns. But biblical usage will not allow us to do this. For it is the conviction of the New Testament authors that the new age (promised in the Old Testament) arrived with Jesus Christ, and that therefore with His coming the old age had begun to pass away and the last days had dawned. Therefore, we are living in the last days. They were ushered in by Jesus Christ. What follows in 2 Timothy 3, therefore, is a description of the present, not the future. Paul depicts the whole period elapsing between the first and second comings of Christ. In these last days, Paul adds, difficult times will come. What Timothy is to understand about the last days is not that they are uniformly, continuously evil, but that they will include perilous seasons. The Greek word for difficult implies either “hard to bear” of “hard to deal with, violent, dangerous”. It is important to grasp that it is men who are responsible for the menacing seasons which the church has to bear, fallen men, evil men, men whose nature is perverted, whose behavior is self-centered and godless, whose mind is hostile to God and his law, and who spread evil, heresy and dead religion in the church.

 

[10-13]  In stark contrast to the contemporary decline in morals, empty show of religion and spread of false teaching Timothy is called to be different, and if necessary to stand alone. Every Christian is called to be different from the world. Timothy’s position is explained in terms of a certain following of Paul. The word followed implies a real commitment of mind and life. In his first letter Paul urged Timothy to nourish himself on the sound doctrine which you have been following [1 Tim. 4:6]; that is, embracing, committing himself to. There is nothing to indicate that the word does not have the same meaning in verse 10. Paul is reminding Timothy not simply that he has fully known or observed his doctrine and conduct, as if he were merely an impartial student or a detached observer, but that he has become a dedicated disciple of the apostle’s. The contrast with the first paragraph of this chapter is obvious. The men described there were following their own inclinations and their pathetic converts had been carried away by their own impulses. Timothy, on the other hand, has followed an altogether different standard, namely the teaching and the example of Christ's apostle Paul. So Paul goes on to list the characteristics of his life, in contrast to that of the self-lovers whom he has characterized in verses 2-5. He mentions his teaching first ,and then goes on to supply two objective evidences of the genuineness of his teaching, namely the life he lived and the sufferings he endured. Indeed, these are good (though not infallible) general tests of a person’s sincerity, and even of the truth or falsehood of his system. Is he so convinced of his position that he both practices what he preaches and is prepared to suffer for it? Have his beliefs made him a better man, even in the face of opposition? Look at Paul’s behavior first. Timothy had observed and tried to imitate Paul’s conduct (his whole demeanor and way of life), his aim in life (the spiritual ambitions which motivated him and made life meaningful for him), his faith (which perhaps here includes his fidelity), his patience (tolerance or long-suffering towards aggravating people), his love (towards both God and man, as opposed to the false teachers’ love for self, money and pleasure) and his steadfastness (the patient endurance of trying circumstances). The reference to steadfastness or endurance naturally leads on to the persecutions and the sufferings which Paul had to endure. In verse 12 Paul makes it clear that his experience was not unique. He sought to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, loving and serving God rather than himself, and he suffered for it. This inevitability of persecution is further explained in verse 13 by the continued activities of false teachers. Paul is quite outspoken about them. He dubs them evil men and impostors. And they proceed from bad to worse. Paul appears to be referring to their own personal deterioration, both intellectual and moral. They begin by being seducers and end in being deceived by their own deceptions; for deceit commonly leads to self-deceit.

 

Embrace God’s Truth: 2 Timothy 3:14-17.

 

[14] You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, [15] and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; [17] so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.  [NASU]

 

[14]  Paul begins with You, however to distinguish Timothy from the evil men and impostors he has just described. Previously Paul has contrasted their pursuit of their own inclinations with Timothy’s faithful following of apostolic doctrine and example. Now Paul draws another contrast: they proceed from bad to worse whereas Timothy is to continue or abide in what he has learned and believed. The term continue is the same term translated “hold to” or “remain” in John 8:31; 15:5-6. It demands more than merely continuing in orthodoxy. It called for a commitment to live and abide in what Timothy had learned. An incentive for remaining in these truths was the personal impact of his teachers upon him. The reference to the whom who had instructed Timothy is a plural pronoun in the Greek. Paul was thinking of the moral impact made on Timothy’s life by his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois as well as by Paul himself. 

 

[15]  Paul reminded Timothy of his inspired source of instruction in the Scriptures. Paul used a rare term in his reference to the Scriptures. Used only here in the New Testament, the phrase literally means sacred writings. The phrase may have been used to stress the sacred character of Timothy’s learning as an utter contrast to the mindless heresies of the false teachers. The aim of the content of the sacred writings is to relate God’s saving purpose in Christ. Timothy’s study of the Scriptures had grounded him in that wisdom and enlightenment that leads to faith in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures lead to salvation but only as they point to Christ. The phrase through faith which is in Christ Jesus shows how the Scriptures make individuals wise. They enlighten them to the necessity for faith in Jesus Christ. The instruction of the Scriptures about salvation relates to two different areas. First, the Scriptures describe the process of conversion. They outline the method by which individuals can be saved. Second, the Scriptures show believers how they are to live, grow, and serve. The Scriptures will provide directions for believers to work out their own salvation [Phil. 2:12].

 

[16-17]  Two fundamental truths about Scripture are asserted here. The first concerns its origin and the second its purpose. First, All Scripture is inspired by God; it is God-breathed. What does he mean by all Scripture? It appears from the context that Paul is including the two sources of Timothy’s knowledge just mentioned, namely Paul’s teaching and the sacred writings. Paul’s definition of Scripture is that it is inspired by God. The single Greek word would be literally translated “God-breathed” and indicates not that Scripture itself or its human authors were breathed into by God, but that Scripture was breathed out by God. Inspiration is doubtless a convenient term to use, but “spiration” or even “expiration” would convey the meaning of the Greek adjective more accurately. Scripture is not to be thought of as already in existence when God breathed into it, but as itself brought into existence by the breath or Spirit of God. It is clear from many passages that inspiration, however the process operated, did not destroy the individuality or the active cooperation of the human writers. All that is stated here is the fact of inspiration, that all Scripture is God-breathed. It originated in God’s mind and was communicated from God’s mouth by God’s breath or Spirit. Secondly, Paul explains the purpose of Scripture: it is profitable. And this is precisely because it is inspired by God. Only its divine origin secures and explains its human profit. The Bible is essentially a handbook of salvation. The whole Bible unfolds the divine scheme of salvation – man’s creation in God’s image, his fall through disobedience into sin and under judgment, God’s continuing love for him in spite of his rebellion, God’s eternal plan to save him through His covenant of grace with a chosen people. Culminating in Christ; the coming of Christ as the Savior, who died to bear man’s sin, was raised from death, was exalted to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit; and man’s rescue first from guilt and alienation, then from bondage, and finally from mortality in his progressive experience of the liberty of God’s children. Paul goes on to show that the profit of Scripture relates to both creed and conduct. As for our creed, Scripture is profitable for teaching the truth and refuting error. As for our conduct, it is profitable for reformation of manners and discipline in right living. In each pair the negative and positive counterparts are combined. Do we hope, either in our own lives or in our teaching ministry, to overcome error and grow in truth, to overcome evil and grow in holiness? Then it is to Scripture that we must primarily turn, for Scripture is profitable for these things. Indeed, Scripture is the chief means which God employs to bring the man of God to maturity. It is only by a diligent study of Scripture that the man of God may become complete, equipped for every good work.

 

Endure to the End: 2 Timothy 4:5-8.

 

[5] But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. [6] For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; [8] in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.   [NASU]

 

[5]  Paul opened his personal appeal to Timothy with a pointed statement, But you. In contrast to those listeners who have itching ears, Timothy was to respond with spiritual intelligence. Paul indicated the nature of Timothy’s response by issuing four quick imperatives, the first in the present tense and the other three in the aorist. Be sober in all things called Timothy to live continually in a state of alertness as he met heretical teaching. The Greek present tense underscores the need for continuous alertness. While other people were racing off in an empty quest for trendy religious innovations, Timothy was to be composed and self-possessed. The alertness Timothy was to practice was not merely a calmness of spirit but an ability to be watchful and cautious with reference to the false teaching around him. In remaining composed, Timothy would face hardship; but he was to endure it without flinching. The work of an evangelist involved spreading the gospel. This was a function of Timothy’s work as a pastor and not a special office. Although it is true that some Christians have the gift of evangelism more obviously than others, that fact must not discourage active sharing of the gospel by all believers. Timothy was to discharge all the duties of his ministry by filling his work to the brim with those tasks on which Paul had urged him to focus.

 

[6]  Paul used two metaphors to describe his anticipated death. First, he compared the pouring out of his energy in ministry to the pouring out of the wine of an Old Testament drink offering. The present tense of the verb for being poured out suggests Paul’s awareness that this was an act then underway. Paul was aware that he was slowly dying in God’s service, and he felt that the shedding of his blood in martyrdom would complete the drink offering to God. Second, he described his departure or death with a verb that pictures the departure of a ship by lifting its anchor or the breaking up of camp by a group of soldiers. Both the ship and the soldiers were going home, and the idea of going home was an accepted euphemism for death.

 

[7]  Paul found three metaphors to reflect the struggles of his ministry, not merely the difficulties of his life. His use of three Greek perfect tenses suggests that something was completed with consequences that still abide. The fight and the race were over, but the victory still abides. Paul had kept the faith, and it remains unshaken. To have finished the course indicates that Paul had followed the course laid out by his Lord. To keep the faith may have involved either maintaining the sound doctrine of Christianity intact or keeping a loyalty to the trust the Father had given him. In light of the fact that the phrase kept the faith seems to be a fixed formula for maintaining a personal trust, the latter option seems more likely. Certainly Paul did hold to the Christian faith, but he emphasized here his fidelity to his commission. Paul was not boasting of his accomplishments but was reflecting on his life course with a statement of confidence. He was describing what the grace of God had produced in him.

 

[8]  The crown of righteousness may refer to the crown either as a reward for righteous behavior or as a gift consisting of righteousness awarded by the Judge when He returns. Jesus Christ is the Judge who will bestow the award in connection with His return, both to Paul and to all those whose righteous actions demonstrate their longing for Christ’s return. The perfect tense for the Greek participle have loved suggests that those in mind had loved Jesus’ appearing in the past and continued to do so up until the moment of reward. To long for Christ’s appearing is not a demand for constant discussions of eschatology but a requirement that believers would perform the life-style of Titus 2:12-13.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.    Paul makes a series of “but” and “however” statements in 3:9-15. For instance, wicked men will try to cause trouble [3:1-8] but God will frustrate their aims [3:9]. In 3:10-15 he goes on to contrast Timothy with the wicked men. What contrasts are Paul making: but you [10-11]; but they [13]; and but you [14-15]?

 

2.    What does Paul mean by calling Scripture “God-breathed”? Paul lists five ways in which “God-breathed” Scripture is useful to us. How do each of these apply to your spiritual life? What is the ultimate goal of using Scripture for these purposes [17]?

 

3.    How is Paul’s attitude in 4:6-8 an encouragement for you?

 

References:

2 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of 2 Timothy, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.