I have already provided introductory information on Paul the Apostle and Timothy the young evangelist in the first chapter of this book. In that section I reviewed the time and circumstances of Paul's first letter to Timothy as well as the relationship and special bond between these two servants of God (they were like father and son). The nature of their relationship, however, really shines through in this second letter.
In Paul's first letter he advised Timothy on the topics of church organization, leadership roles and how to deal with teachers who were attempting to replace the gospel with a new teaching derived from a mix of ideas taken from mystery religions, Greek philosophies, Jewish law as well as Christianity to produce a "Gnostic (knowledge) gospel." In reality this super-gospel threatened the faith and stability of the church, not to mention Paul's credibility as an Apostle and Timothy's position as a teacher sent by Paul.
This second letter is more personal in nature as Paul focuses on Timothy's state of mind while he battles the issues and people described in the first letter. It also provides a window into Paul's own personal struggles and needs as he faces the greatest crisis in his long and fruitful service on behalf of the gospel and care for the young church of the first century.
Background for II Timothy
The letter was written shortly before Paul was executed in Rome by the emperor Nero, somewhere between 64-67 AD.
B. Paul's circumstances
After being released from his first imprisonment, Paul likely travelled to Nicopolis located in western Greece and planned to stay there for awhile (Titus 3:12). When the persecution of the church by Nero began, he left there and travelled to the safer confines of Troas. It seems that he was forced to flee from that city as well since, in the rush, he left behind his cloak, books and parchments (probably Old Testament scriptures, II Timothy 4:13).
It was around this time that he was arrested on a second occasion and taken back to Rome for trial and execution. It seems that Alexander, a coppersmith, may have had a hand in his arrest (II Timothy 4:14). He was apprehended shortly after the burning of Rome by Nero, who blamed this destruction on the Christians in that city who were disliked by the general population. As one of the most prominent Christian leaders, Paul was an easy target for arrest.
C. Paul's second imprisonment
Paul's first imprisonment was caused by false accusations from Jewish leaders. This time it was the Romans who brought false charges against him (II Timothy 2:9). In his previous imprisonment he was under house arrest, this time he is placed in a dungeon. Before, he preached and taught freely all those who came to visit and stay with him. Now visits are restricted (II Timothy 1:17) and no one stood with him at trial. He confidently expected to be released from his first imprisonment but has no such hope this time (II Timothy 4:6). The expectation of execution gives both urgency to his words of encouragement to Timothy and sadness as he bids farewell to a beloved brother and co-worker in the Lord.
D. The purpose of the letter
- To encourage Timothy to be faithful in his preaching and teaching even while facing death, and that the preaching and purity of the gospel continue even in the face of adversity.
- To set forth Paul's final testimony for his own faith before he died.
- To ask Timothy to come and be at his side during his final days and bring along his personal effects (robe, book, parchments) when he comes.
This is Paul's last surviving letter. It has been styled as his last will and testament.
E. Interesting facts about II Timothy
- It is a very personal letter in that it refers to 23 individuals in four short chapters.
- Only Paul's letter to Philemon is more personal.
- This is the only place in the Bible where the names of Pharaoh's magicians, who opposed Moses and Aaron (Exodus 7:11), are mentioned: Jannes and Jambres (II Timothy 3:8).
- Paul refers to Timothy as a "man of God" (II Timothy 3:17), which was a title given to the great prophets of Israel (Moses in Deuteronomy 33:1, Samuel in I Samuel 9:6, David in Nehemiah 12:24).
- In speaking of his impending execution, Paul uses the term "already being offered" which in the Greek language meant that a sacrificed animal's blood was "poured out as a drink or liquid offering" on a sacrificial altar.
- Paul was executed by beheading. As a Roman citizen he would not (as Jesus and Peter) be subject to execution by crucifixion.
Based on the request made of him in this letter we can surmise that Timothy followed Paul's instructions in collecting his things, travelled to Rome to be with him at the end of his life and witnessed his martyrdom.
There is no main "theme" for II Timothy as Paul touches on many topics. He is wrapping things up and consequently giving final advice and warnings about several things. Here's a breakdown for a possible outline:
- Greetings and thanksgivings - 1:1-5
- Encouragement and instructions for evangelistic service - 1:6-2:26
- Warnings and assurances for the future - 3:1-17
- Paul's final exhortation, testimony and benedictions - 4:1-22
We will be following this general outline in our study of II Timothy.
Greetings and Thanksgiving — 1:1-5
Greetings - 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus,
- II Timothy 1:1
Paul summarizes his life, ministry and future hope all in one verse.
A. Who he is. He makes no reference to his past as a Jew, Pharisee and persecutor of the church because all of that was dead and buried in the waters of baptism where he, like all other believers, came out of the water as a new creature in Christ: a Christian. And as Paul said himself (II Corinthians 5:17) "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." For Paul, the only identity he now acknowledged aside from that of Christian was as an Apostle of Christ, chosen and called by God. This role and identity not only defined his life and ministry but was also the major cause of his persecution by the Jews, torture and threats of death by the Gentiles and finally his arrest and looming execution by the Romans. And yet, despite all of this, in his last letter he continues to boldly identify with the One who is the cause of his impending execution. His entire existence is connected to Christ whether it is related to ministry or personal suffering or death - he only identifies with Jesus.
B. Paul's other reference (aside from who he is now) is what he hopes for in the future. His death is imminent and he acknowledges this by commenting on what will happen after his death. He joins the two ideas in this verse together by saying that his calling to apostleship sent him out to declare the promise of God in Christ - which he refers to here as "...the promise of life in Christ Jesus." The "life" promised was not just a lifestyle but a spiritual and thus eternal life for those in Christ or those who believe in Jesus.
So Paul begins his final letter, addressed to Timothy, by once again stating his faithful allegiance to Christ (apostle), purpose of his calling (gospel) and hope for the future (eternal life).
Greetings - 1:2
To Timothy, my beloved son; Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
- II Timothy 1:2
Paul uses a similar greeting in this second letter that he used in his first letter to Timothy.
A. The blessing - Grace, mercy and peace
1. Grace is the character and motivation that moved God to offer sinful man forgiveness and salvation based on faith in Jesus Christ rather than perfect obedience to the Law. That Jesus obeys the Law perfectly and offers His perfect life on the cross as a restitution or payment for our sins; that we receive perfect righteousness as a gift based on our faith in Jesus (expressed in repentance and baptism); this demonstrates how gracious God is.
2. Mercy speaks to God's ongoing love for mankind and His blessings upon both believers and unbelievers. He blesses unbelievers with life and everything necessary to make life worth living such as family, comfort, physical and emotional blessings, beauty and abundance, etc. He also continues to reach out to unbelievers with the gospel of salvation throughout their lives so that they might believe. In addition to this, He blesses believers with all the same things that unbelievers have ("..the rain falls on the just and the unjust.." Matthew 5:45). And, of course, to these blessings, the Lord also continues to forgive and restore believers who sin and fall short throughout their lives. This is something that is not available to those who do not believe (I John 1:7-9).
3. Peace is the result of God's grace and mercy towards the believer. A believer is at peace with God because his sins are forgiven and he no longer faces condemnation at judgment (Romans 8:1). A believer is at peace with himself because he can forgive himself for not being perfect. If God forgives you your sins and imperfections, you can forgive yourself as well. You can honestly do your best to serve God and live righteously without feeling stressed or guilty because both you and God know you are not perfect and have allowed Jesus to deal with that imperfection at the cross. When Satan accuses me in my conscience of not being perfect, I point him and my conscience to the cross.
A believer is at peace with others because his relationship with others is now placed on the higher, spiritual level. I no longer compete with or judge others because my task as a believer is to love others as Christ has loved me. This clear mandate for my expected behavior uncomplicates my life and brings an element of peace to all of my relationships.
B. The source of the blessings (grace, mercy, peace)
As in I Timothy, Paul repeats that the source of these blessings is God the Father and Jesus the Lord. What is notable here is that Paul places God the Father and Jesus on the same level and in doing so declares once again the divinity of Jesus.
The third similarity...
C. The recipient of the letter
This is where the two passages differ. Both letters are addressed to Timothy, but in the first letter Paul calls him a true child, referring to Paul's influence in converting him and helping him develop into spiritual maturity; in the second letter Paul calls him a "beloved son" which is a more personal and emotional term.
Paul is confined to a Roman dungeon awaiting execution when he writes a final letter to this his closest associate and disciple, Timothy. In the letter he greets the young preacher with a familiar blessing that encapsulates what they both believe concerning the gospel, and he addresses Timothy as a loving son, made more precious to him in his last days. The contemplation of this loving and spiritually fruitful relationship moves the Apostle to give thanks in prayer.
Thanksgiving - 1:3-5
3I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day. 4longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.
- II Timothy 1:3-4
Paul first mentions his state of mind while offering prayers to God - he has a clear conscience. Even though he was imprisoned and near his execution for a crime against Rome (promoting a banned religion), he felt no guilt. Like Jews in the past who served God despite persecution and false accusations (i.e. Joseph falsely accused of rape and imprisoned, Genesis 39:1-23 and Jeremiah falsely accused of being a traitor and imprisoned, Jeremiah 32:1-2). Like these servants before him, Paul suffered false accusations and imprisonment but knew that he was innocent of any wrong doing and thus his conscience was clear before God.
Paul's prayers on behalf of Timothy, therefore, are offered with a clear conscience which makes them acceptable before God. Of course the idea is that Timothy, who shares this ministry (an outlawed religion), should also have a clear conscience despite what others might be saying about the Christian faith. The rumor was that Christians were responsible for the fire that destroyed a good part of the city. Paul reaffirms that his conscience is clear perhaps in an effort to reassure Timothy that there was no truth to this story.
Paul's prayers are motivated by the memories of his relationship and love for Timothy as a son as well as Timothy's love for Paul. Paul mentions Timothy's tears, these probably shed when they were forced to part ways after Paul's arrest and imprisonment. In his prayer, Paul asks God to enable him to see Timothy once again before his execution (II Timothy 4:9). This, he says, will fill him with joy.
For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that is in you as well.
- II Timothy 1:5
This verse serves as a bridge to the first major section of the letter: Encouragement and Instruction for Evangelistic Service - 1:6-2:26. In his prayers and consideration of Timothy, he is reminded of the thing that brought them together in the first place: Timothy's faith and potential as an evangelist. Paul makes reference to the source of that faith and who had schooled him in the Scriptures. Both Timothy's mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, are mentioned suggesting that Timothy had no male practitioners of the faith at home and it had been passed on to him by two generations of women. Paul compares Timothy's faith to that of his mother and grandmother which was high praise for these two godly women coming from an Apostle of Jesus.
Now that the subject of Timothy's faith has been introduced, Paul will go on to provide instruction and encouragement to help this young preacher's faith grow in knowledge and boldness.