2 Timothy 2:1-26

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Many, out of fear, had abandoned Paul in his time of distress. Apparently for this reason, he admonished Timothy to continue drawing strength from “the favor that [is] in Christ Jesus.” Again, affectionately, the apostle called his beloved fellow worker “my child,” for he had been like a father to him, teaching him by word and example. In the sphere of gracious favor or kindness, which includes all the help and guidance available through Christ, Timothy would be able to acquire strength. This favor is referred to as being “in Christ Jesus” probably because it is granted to all who are at one with him. (2:1)

Timothy had repeatedly heard Paul’s teaching. According to a literal reading of the Greek text, he heard the things the apostle taught “through many witnesses.” This could mean that Timothy heard these things in the presence of many witnesses, from numerous other believers besides Paul, or as the teaching to which genuine believers adhered and which they made known. Whereas the evangel or good news about Christ had been directly revealed to Paul, the message he proclaimed did not differ from that of the many witnesses whom the Son of God had taught while on earth. (Galatians 1:15-23; 2:6-9) So, in an indirect way, the things Timothy heard from Paul would have been what he also heard from many other believers. The apostle asked that Timothy pass on what he had learned to faithful or trustworthy men who would be able to teach others. (2:2)

In carrying out his commission, Timothy, while faced with difficult circumstances, would also be engaging in a battle against false teachings and corrupt practices. As a “good soldier of Christ Jesus,” he would suffer hardships. (2:3)

A Roman soldier could not be involved in the pursuits of ordinary life, but had to give his undivided attention to his duties to be pleasing to his superior. An athlete would not receive the victory wreath if he failed to follow the rules. The farmer who labored would be the one to partake of the fruits, being the first to enjoy a share of the harvested crops. (2:4-6)

Paul wanted Timothy to give attention to what he had said about the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer, drawing the appropriate lesson therefrom. The apostle added, “The Lord will grant you comprehension in everything.” As he wanted the more important spiritual aspect to be understood, Paul was confident that the Lord Jesus Christ would enable Timothy to derive the full benefit from what he had written. Just as there were requirements soldiers, athletes, and farmers had to fulfill to attain the desired results, Timothy would need to discharge his responsibilities faithfully to be pleasing to God and the Lord Jesus Christ, sharing in all the privileges and blessings that would be bestowed on all who are found to be approved. (2:7)

Prominent features of the good news that Paul wanted Timothy to recall were the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his being from the line of King David (literally, “from the seed of David”). When using the expression “my evangel,” Paul meant the message about Jesus Christ that he proclaimed. In his preaching the evangel or good news, he always emphasized that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The resurrection undeniably proved that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and that only through him can humans be forgiven of their sins and be liberated from the condemnation to which sin leads. The fact that Jesus came to be in the line of David established that he is the foretold Christ or Messiah. (2:8; Acts 13:16-39)

Paul was then suffering imprisonment as if he had been a criminal. His confinement had resulted from his activity as a proclaimer of the message about Jesus Christ. Although he himself was bound and deprived of freedom of movement, the “word of God” (the message that focused on Christ as the one through whom reconciliation with God is possible) was not bound. Other believers continued to spread the good news extensively in the Greco-Roman world. (2:9; compare Philippians 1:12-14.)

The apostle did not doubt that having the approval of God and Christ would result in lasting blessings. So he was willing to endure everything for the sake of the elect (believers whom God had chosen to be his people). His activity among the non-Jewish peoples had led to his imprisonment, and so it was for those who became believers that he endured distress and hardship. Moreover, the apostle’s willingness to endure suffering would encourage fellow believers to do likewise when subjected to trials and difficulties for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul earnestly desired that, on account of what he was prepared to endure in the advancement of Christ’s cause, these chosen ones would obtain the “salvation [that is] in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2:10)

Salvation, or forgiveness of sins and liberation from the condemnation to which sin leads, is only available “in” Christ. The reference to salvation being “in” Christ may signify that he is the one through whom deliverance from sin and condemnation is effected. Another possible meaning is that all who rest their faith on him are saved or delivered from sin and condemnation. In the ultimate sense, the fullness of salvation will be experienced in the sinless state. Apparently for this reason, being saved is linked to “eternal glory.” Believers will share in the glory, magnificence, or splendor of the Lord Jesus Christ. (2:10)

The “word” or message conveyed in the composition that Paul next quoted is “faithful,” dependable, or trustworthy. This “word” appears to have been part of an early Christian composition. “For if we died [with him], we will also live [with him]. If we endure, we will also reign [with him]. If we deny [him], he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2:11-13)

Upon putting faith in Christ Jesus and, at the time of their baptism, acknowledging him as the one through whom forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with his Father have been made possible, believers become members of Christ’s body. As members of his body, they share in his experiences as their head. Christ died, and members of his body then died with him. Just as Christ rose from the dead, believers, at the time of their baptism die with reference to their old self and are raised to a newness of life as God’s approved children. Ultimately, this will mean enjoying a never-ending relationship with Christ (and his Father) in the sinless state. (2:11)

Believers who faithfully endure trials and hardships for the sake of Christ will also reign with him, receiving their share in the realm where he rules as king. Those who deny him, disowning him as the Lord who died for them and whose example and teaching they are to follow, will not be acknowledged as belonging to him. The Lord Jesus Christ will disown them, refusing to acknowledge having any relationship with them. (2:12)

If believers prove unfaithful, ceasing to live a life that harmonizes with his example and teaching, Jesus Christ does not change. He remains faithful, always trustworthy and dependable as the head of his corporate body, the community of believers. It is impossible for Christ to deny himself. Never will he prove false. He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” (2:13; Hebrews 13:8)

In keeping with what he had just said, Paul asked that Timothy remind fellow believers of their being willing to suffer hardships for the sake of Christ and to remain faithful to him as their Lord. Additionally, Timothy was to charge them solemnly before God (the Lord, according to many manuscripts) not to fight over words. (2:14)

Wrangling about the significance of certain words would not benefit anyone and would have a ruinous or upsetting effect on listeners. Fights over certain terms distract from, obscure, or distort the message that the words as a whole are intended to convey. Those who engage in disputes tend to be more interested in gaining the best of an argument than they are in advancing the cause of truth. Controversies over words raise doubts in the minds of listeners, causing them to question whether the things they have learned are really true and whether anyone can be trusted. What they may have once valued and appreciated comes to be marred by unsettling feelings of uncertainty. (2:14; see the Notes section.)

Paul urged Timothy to be earnest in seeking to present himself as one who is approved before God, as a worker who has nothing of which to be ashamed, using the “word of truth” aright. The Greek word that may be understood to mean “to use aright” is orthotoméo, literally signifying the act of cutting a way or path in a straight manner. In relation to the “word of truth” (the message about Christ and what his Father has accomplished through him), the expression orthotoméo may denote teaching the message aright or expounding it soundly. By being exemplary in avoiding fights over words and doing his best to teach and proclaim the truth that Jesus Christ revealed, Timothy would have had no cause for shame because of having misrepresented God or Christ. Through diligent adherence to sound teaching, he would prove himself to be an approved worker to God. (2:15)

Timothy needed to avoid “profane, empty expressions,” mere idle talk that did nothing to encourage others to live an upright life. Those who engage in profane babbling end up progressively becoming more ungodly, and their ruinous talk spreads “like gangrene,” with its pernicious influence wreaking havoc to the faith of all who are deceived thereby. (2:16, 17)

Paul singled out Hymenaeus and Philetus as being among those who engaged in profane chatter. These two men had strayed from the truth, claiming that the resurrection had already occurred. Although Paul did not include the specifics of their views, Timothy would have known just what falsehoods they were spreading. Their teaching had upset or undermined the faith of some believers, apparently causing them to doubt that there would actually be a future resurrection. (2:17, 18)

Despite the destructive effect of false teaching, Paul was confident that the “solid foundation of God” continues to stand. Timothy likely understood Christ to be the foundation or the cornerstone of the foundation that included the apostles. (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:19, 20) The designation “foundation of God,” when applied to Christ, would fit his being identified as the “living stone” that God laid and on which the community of believers is built. (1 Peter 2:4-6) This foundation bears an inscription (literally, “has this seal”), “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Let everyone calling on [literally, ‛naming’] the name of the Lord abstain from unrighteousness.” The Lord Jesus Christ acknowledges as his own all who are truly built on him as the foundation, and they are identified by their upright conduct, shunning all unrighteousness, or attitudes, words, and deeds that are contrary to his example and teaching. Their “naming” or calling on the name of the Lord signifies their acknowledging him as their Lord and living in harmony therewith. (2:19; see the Notes section.)

Whereas the foundation is sure and the community of believers constitutes a sanctuary on this foundation, this does not mean that all who identify themselves as part of that community truly belong to it. As the inscription reveals, the Lord is the one who knows his own. Therefore, not all professing believers are necessarily good associates. Paul called to Timothy’s attention that various kinds of vessels or utensils could be found in a large house. There would be precious vessels made from gold or silver, and others fashioned from wood or clay. The precious vessels would be regarded as honorable, often being reserved for use on special occasions. Vessels or utensils that lacked honor would be the ones made from inferior materials and would be used for common or for menial utilitarian purposes. (2:20)

With seeming reference to the community of believers, which includes both honorable and dishonorable vessels, Paul emphasized the need for cleansing oneself from the dishonorable ones, probably meaning not to allow oneself to be contaminated by them. This would be by distancing oneself from them and not making them one’s intimate companions. All who remain free from the defilement of wrong conduct and teaching would prove themselves to be honorable or noble vessels, “sanctified” (set apart as holy or pure) and “useful” to their “owner.” The owner could be the Lord Jesus Christ who bought them with his precious blood. As his approved disciples, Jesus Christ would be able to use them to further his interests, and they would be prepared or fitted for “every good work,” which could include any noble service that he assigned or that honored him. It is also possible that the “owner” is God (as a number of translations make explicit), for he purchased humans with the blood of his own Son. (2:21; compare Acts 20:28.)

The Greek text of verse 21 is not specific in saying that one should keep clean from dishonorable vessels. It literally reads, “If, then, one should have cleansed himself from these.” This has been rendered as applying either to things or to people. “All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.” (NRSV) “All who make themselves clean from evil will be used for special purposes. They will be made holy, useful to the Master, ready to do any good work.” (NCV) “If a man cleanses himself from the latter [the ones for ignoble purposes], he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (NIV) Wenn sich jemand von Menschen fern hält, die einem Gefäß mit unreinem Inhalt gleichen, wird er ein Gefäß sein, das ehrenvollen Zwecken dient. Er steht Gott zur Verfügung und ist ihm, dem Hausherrn, nützlich, bereit, all das Gute zu tun, das dieser ihm aufträgt. (If someone keeps himself distant from people who are like a vessel with unclean contents, he will be a vessel that serves honorable purposes. He is available to God and is useful to him, the Master of the house, ready to perform all the good that this [Master] assigns to him.) (Neue Genfer Übersetzung, German).

At the time Paul wrote to him, Timothy was still comparatively young (probably in his late thirties). Therefore, the apostle admonished him to flee from the desires or passions that are particularly prominent among younger men. The exhortation to flee would signify that Timothy should quickly avoid any situation that might tempt him to yield to a wrong desire. His earnest objective was to be the pursuit of righteousness or uprightness, faith (continued growth in his faith in God and Christ and probably also personal trustworthiness), love (compassionate concern for those in need and a willingness to forgo personal interests for the benefit of others), peace (an inner sense of tranquility and the furtherance of good relationships with others). These noble qualities were to be pursued in association with exemplary fellow believers who called “upon the Lord out of a clean heart.” These fellow believers would be persons who, in attitude, word, and deed, acknowledged Jesus Christ as their Lord and were motivated to serve him out of the purity of their hearts or their inmost selves. (2:22)

Timothy needed to shun foolish and ignorant “seekings,” “searchings,” or questionings, not allowing himself to be drawn into idle inquiries that produced nothing beneficial or useful but only gave rise to fights, controversies, or disputes. (2:23)

As a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ, Timothy did not need to fight, engaging in heated or angry arguments or debates. Instead, a servant of God’s Son “needs to be gentle” or kindly “toward all,” not responding with anger or harshness when encountering resistance to sound teaching. Being able to teach would denote being able to impart instruction in a manner that others could understand and that would not stir up needless controversy. In the event certain ones proved to be unresponsive or resistant to truth, seeking to wrangle, the one doing the teaching was to exercise restraint, not lashing out in anger or resentment but remaining patient under the unfavorable circumstances. (2:24)

When dealing with those who are resistant or not rightly inclined, a servant of Christ was not to respond in a harsh manner but instruct or correct with mildness or gentleness. The objective would have been to appeal to such ones in a kindly manner, hoping that God may grant them a spirit of repentance, leading them back to the truth from which they had strayed. The response of the one earnestly trying to instruct or correct in a mild way could motivate the wayward ones to think seriously about their course of action and make them amenable to the operation of God’s spirit, motivating them to repent and once again to know the truth as Christ lived and taught it. On the other hand, a harsh and unloving response could easily lead to a hardening in the attitude of straying individuals, making it even more difficult for them to change. (2:25)

The good effect of mildness or gentleness on wayward ones may cause them to come to their senses and escape from the devil’s snare. The devil had caught them alive (zogréo). If the Greek term zogréo here has the basic meaning of “capture alive” and not just “catch” or “capture,” the expression could suggest that the straying ones had been trapped as believers who were not dead in trespasses and sins, making their plight as wayward believers graver than that of unbelievers. (2:26)

The concluding words may be understood to indicate that those who had strayed were caught to do the devil’s will or that their getting free from the devil’s snare would be to do God’s will. (2:26) Both meanings are found in the renderings of modern translations. “And they may wake up and escape from the trap of the devil, who catches them to do what he wants.” (NCV) “Thus they may come to their senses and escape from the devil’s snare in which they have been trapped and held at his will.” (REB) “They have been trapped by the devil, and he makes them obey him, but God may help them escape.” (CEV) “And that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him, to do his (that is, God’s) will.” (NRSV, footnote) “They may come to their senses and be rescued from the power of the devil by the servant of the Lord and set to work for God’s purposes.” (J. B. Phillips)


The manuscript evidence for verse 14 does not make it possible to determine whether “Lord” or “God” represents the original reading. A few manuscripts say “Christ.”

In verse 19, the first part of the inscription (“The Lord knows those who are his”) is nearly the same as the extant Septuagint reading of Numbers 16:5, where the reference is to God. Isaiah 26:13, in the Septuagint, contains words that parallel the second part of the inscription (“we name your name”). Paul, however, did not introduce either part as a quotation nor did he use the words as supporting quotations. Therefore, the expressions he chose may be regarded as reflecting his thorough acquaintance with the words contained in the Greek translation of the sacred writings, and his reference to the Lord may be understood to apply to the Lord Jesus Christ.