I think it would be helpful to look at our outline once again to see where we are in our study of this epistle.
- Greetings and thanksgiving - 1:1-5
- Encouragement and instructions for evangelistic service - 1:6-2:26
- Remain faithful to your calling - 1:6-7
- Remain faithful to the gospel - 1:8-12
- Remain faithful to the doctrine - 1:13-18
- Remain faithful in service - 2:1-7
In this chapter we will finish out this encouragement/instruction section with Paul's last exhortation: be faithful to your ministry.
Remain Faithful — 2:14-26
5. Remain faithful to your ministry
The work of ministry was difficult especially in the first century when churches were few and far between. Christians had to deal with persecution, and in Timothy's case at Ephesus, false teachers may have been spreading heretical doctrine and plotting to undermine him in his role as evangelist and teacher. Paul couldn't be there to help in person so his letter is filled with practical instructions as to what Timothy needed to do in order to weather these attacks while maintaining unity and order at the church where he ministered.
In this section Paul describes five things that Timothy had to do in order to deal with the issues he faced. There is more to the work of ministry than these five things but Paul is not writing a general guide to ministry, he is counseling one minister about his particular situation. So for Timothy, remaining faithful to his ministry in his particular situation required the following:
A. Teach God's Word to the Troublemakers
Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
- II Timothy 2:14
The "them" he has to remind are the Gnostic teachers who promoted a polluted gospel comprised of a mix of ideas from Greek philosophy, pagan religions, Judaism and Christianity. Their teaching content and style produced speculation and debate among those exposed to their doctrines; debates that had no conclusions since the topic of discussion had no inspired source or inspired teachers. Not only were the debates useless (in that they did not edify, provide knowledge or insight), they harmed those who participated. Constant speculation and debate over man-made ideas tends to discourage people from searching for the truth. Their disappointment in fruitless religious debate often leads them to consider the gospel message as just another false teaching similar to other lies they have heard. Endless speculation about false religious ideas breeds mistrust of all spiritual ideas, even those that are legitimately from God.
Paul wants Timothy to avert this problem by reminding (repeatedly teaching or bringing to one's attention) both the teachers and debaters of the genuine gospel message. His reference to "these things" are the concepts and teachings he has mentioned up to this point in his letter. Instead of pointless debates that neither edify nor educate, he must continually remind the church, and especially these people, of the gospel and its power to save along with its promise to exalt the faithful Christian to the right hand of God when Jesus comes. Doing this will replace useless religious speculation with the sure knowledge of God's will for mankind and the glorious future that awaits those who believe. Perhaps what is not said but implied here is that Timothy himself should not be drawn into these useless debates and focus instead on preaching and teaching the gospel which will be more beneficial for him as well as the church.
Remaining faithful to his ministry also required Timothy to...
B. Accurately Preach God's Word
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
- II Timothy 2:15
Timothy is battling teachers and hearers who are polluting the gospel. In response to this he not only must continue to focus on the gospel but demonstrate that he is a competent teacher as well. Being diligent refers to his study and preparation as a teacher and preacher. When he preaches it should be obvious to his hearers that he is prepared, knowledgeable, and thus competent. Timothy must realize that when he preaches to the church, he is also doing this before God. He might be able to fool the church with shoddy work, but he can't fool God whose Word he is teaching.
Paul has already described the results of false teaching by incompetent teachers (the ruin or loss of faith of their hearers). If Timothy is well prepared and accurate in his teaching he will have different results:
- His hearers will be edified and grow in their faith.
- The false teachers will be silenced and shown to be incompetent.
- Timothy will not be put to shame or embarrassed because his incompetency is revealed. On the contrary, he will have confidence before God and the church that he is skilled in accurately preaching God's word and producing the results that should naturally come from this.
C. Avoid Debating Religious Nonsense
16But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.
- II Timothy 2:16-18
Paul has reminded Timothy that his prime responsibility was to accurately preach and teach God's word, especially the message of the gospel. Here he adds what Timothy is not to do: waste his time listening to and debating the false teachers because in doing so he not only gave them a platform and a measure of credibility, but unintentionally caused their ideas to spread. Paul tells Timothy that his proper response is to reject and ignore them.
Paul then turns his attention to these men and pronounces a judgment on what they are doing. Their chatter (he doesn't even dignify what they are saying by calling it "teaching") is not spiritual and comes from below (the world) and not above (heaven). Their talk has already caused some to abandon the faith and return to a worldly lifestyle. Unfortunately, their ideas have advanced and this progress Paul compares to the spread of an infection (gangrene) through a body causing illness and death.
At this point Paul actually names two men who may have been at the forefront of this movement in the church. Hymenaeus is mentioned in I Timothy 1:20 as one troublemaker who was previously put out of the church, and Philetus, mentioned only here without further details. Hymenaeus was mentioned in Paul's previous letter and again here, several years later, suggesting that he had caused trouble with his teachings for quite some time. In verse 18, Paul alludes to the false teaching that had caused the problems they were having. Apparently these men were teaching that there was no bodily resurrection of the dead. Their idea was that Christians had already been resurrected (figuratively) at baptism in a spiritual resurrection to live a regenerated life here on earth with no other resurrection in the future. This concept was contrary to what Jesus and the Apostles taught on this subject.
"for this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."
- John 6:40
50Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
- I Corinthians 15:50-53
A person could choose not to believe what Jesus and Paul were saying here, but they couldn't deny what both Jesus and Paul taught: conscious, eternal life after death for believers. The false teachers argued that Paul and Jesus' teaching on this subject was allegorical and symbolic. Paul charged that they had left the truth and by doing so wrecked their faith and damaged the faith of others by promoting these ideas. For example, if there was no bodily resurrection, then Jesus didn't resurrect either. If Jesus didn't resurrect then the proof of His divinity, the effectiveness of His cross and the assurance of His promises were gone because all of these were based on His resurrection.
who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
- Romans 1:4
People who bought into this false idea soon lost their hope (of heaven and eternal life), and their faith (in a resurrected Jesus) because these were based on a risen Savior not an allegory or symbol.
Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His", and "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness."
- II Timothy 2:19
Paul reassures Timothy (and anyone else who may have read this letter or been taught by Timothy) that the foundation (the gospel, teachings, church) of Christ stands firm despite the false teachings that were circulating.
The gospel stands -
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
- Romans 1:16
The teachings stand -
24for, "ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, 25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER." And this is the word which was preached to you.
- I Peter 1:24-25
The church stands -
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
- Matthew 16:18
In addition to this Paul also assures Timothy that God knows who the fakes are and who His faithful servants are as well, and this knowledge is sure (sealed). Those who are His preach and teach His Word accurately. Those who are His live faithful lives striving to be pure in this corrupted world. Without even mentioning them Paul describes the two factors that will condemn the false teachers at judgment, their heretical teaching and their wicked behavior. Paul uses this rebuke of the false teachers to remind Timothy of yet another thing he must do in order to be faithful to his ministry...
D. Flee Immoral Behavior - 2:20-23
20Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. 21therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
- II Timothy 2:20-21
Paul is probably referring to the church here (big house) and alluding to the fact that there are different types in the church. In context, he differentiates between the false teachers and their followers (earth and wooden vessels), and Timothy with those who remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles (gold and silver vessels). Note that it isn't God who determines the quality of the vessels, but the individuals themselves (by adhering to the proper gospel and teaching, and avoiding immoral lifestyle). It isn't expressly stated in the passage, but we read between the lines that the precious metal vessels are used and kept, while the earthen and wooden types are used for awhile and eventually discarded. Based on this spiritual reality Paul encourages Timothy to be careful for his own soul's safety from the corruption in the world and distractions that often appear in the church.
22Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.
- II Timothy 2:22-23
As a man, Timothy needs to run away from various physical temptations common to all men. As a Christian, he needs to pursue and focus on right living, faith, love and peace with other Christians who, like himself, call on God in prayer with a clear conscience for these same things. As a minister, Timothy needs to avoid the kind of debates and arguments with the people Paul has previously mentioned, and instead continue preaching God's word.
This brings Paul to his final point concerning Timothy's ministry...
E. Seek and Save Those Who Have Fallen
Paul still has an eye on the false teachers and those affected by them as he instructs Timothy in how to engage these people should he need to.
24The Lord's bond servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged,25with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
- II Timothy 2:24-26
His approach should not be one where he debates and quarrels on their terms trying to deconstruct their doctrines and opinions. Instead, he is to teach God's word with kindness, patience and gentleness, correcting the errors they have embraced. His attitude provides them the motivation to listen to the Word taught. Timothy's motivation to reach out to them is the knowledge that they are trapped and condemned by their embrace of this false doctrine.
And so Paul, unable to be with Timothy in person to help deal with a destructive movement in the church, counsels this young preacher to remain faithful to his ministry, and describes five practical ways he is to do this:
- Teach only the Word of God.
- Take care to teach the Word accurately.
- Avoid useless debates over "religion."
- Flee immoral behavior and embrace righteous living.
- Seek and save those who have fallen.