Paul’s situation had turned dire. He was back in prison; the end of his life seemed to draw near. The time had come to recall Timothy for a final time. To this end he wrote 2 Timothy.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy is the sixteenth book in modern editions of the New Testament; along with 1 Timothy and Titus, 2 Timothy is considered one of the “pastoral letters,” featuring counsel for preachers in how to work among the people of God. Paul is listed as its author (2 Timothy 1:1); it would seem as if he wrote the letter personally. Pauline authorship of 2 Timothy is strongly contested by scholars on the basis of style and content. Nevertheless Christians of the late second century believed it to be genuine, and differences in style and content can be easily explained in terms of Paul’s later age and different audience. The letter is undated; Paul’s language in 2 Timothy provides a level of finality not seen in any other correspondence (2 Timothy 4:6-8), and therefore likely represents the chronologically latest piece of Pauline correspondence in the New Testament. For this reason most consider 2 Timothy to have been written soon before Paul’s execution by Nero (ca. 64-66 CE). Paul wrote to Timothy to urge him to come to Rome quickly, exhorting him to the continued faithful proclamation and instruction of the Gospel of Christ.
After a standard greeting (2 Timothy 1:1-2), Paul gave deep thanks to God for Timothy, wishing to see him again, remembering the faith in him which was first in his mother and grandmother, encouraging Timothy to not neglect God’s gifts but to not be ashamed of the testimony of God and suffer hardship since He obtained redemption for us in Christ according to the Gospel, as preached by Paul and for which Paul suffered (2 Timothy 1:3-14). Paul then reported regarding difficulties he encountered: those from Asia turned away from him, including Phygelus and Hermogenes, but Onesiphorus and his house proved faithful and refreshed him even in Rome (2 Timothy 1:15-18).
Paul continued with a series of exhortations for Timothy: be strengthened in Jesus’ grace, commit the teachings about Christ to faithful men who can instruct others, endure hardship (2 Timothy 2:1-3). Paul set forth some “parables” for Timothy regarding which the Lord would give understanding: the soldier does not get entangled with other pursuits, crowns are only given to those who compete by the rules, and the hardworking farmer partakes first of the fruit of the labor (2 Timothy 2:4-7). Above all Timothy must remember Jesus for whom Paul suffered and is imprisoned, enduring for the sake of the elect: those who die with Him will live with Him, those who endure will reign with Him, those who deny Him He will deny, but He remains faithful even if people prove faithless (2 Timothy 2:8-13). Paul then warned Timothy about those who warp and pervert the words of Jesus: Timothy must be diligent to handle the word of truth appropriately, unlike Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have taught the resurrection is past, a gangrenous doctrine, overthrowing the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:14-18). Yet God knows who are His, and all should strive to be vessels of honor, sanctified for the Master’s work (2 Timothy 2:19-21). Timothy would do well to shun youthful lusts, not be quarrelsome, but patient in correcting those in opposition, for perhaps the Lord will grant them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:22-26).
Paul continued his warnings with concerns about those who would arise in later times: people will be selfish and ungodly, ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth, and are as Jannes and Jambres, the Egyptian magicians who resisted the truth (2 Timothy 3:1-9; cf. Exodus 7:11, 22). In contrast Timothy had followed the path Paul trod according to the fruit of the Spirit and despite persecution; all who would live as godly in Christ will experience persecution, for those in opposition will get worse, deceiving as they are deceived (2 Timothy 3:10-13; cf. Galatians 5:22-24). Instead Timothy must persevere in what he was taught, having become wise unto salvation through the holy writings; Scripture is inspired by God and profitable to equip the man of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Paul then charged Timothy in the presence of God in Christ to preach the Gospel in and out of season, to rebuke and exhort with patience and teaching, for days would come when people would accrue teachers according to their desires and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:1-4). Timothy was to remain sober minded, doing the work of an evangelist, fulfilling his ministry, for Paul’s days were drawing to an end, and having fought the good fight of faith, he looked forward to receiving the wreath of righteousness from the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:5-8).
Paul concluded his letter with news and final exhortations. Paul wanted Timothy to come as soon as he could, for Demas apostatized and went to Thessalonica while Crescens was in Galatia, Titus was in Dalmatia, and Tychicus was sent to Ephesus; Luke was with Paul, and Paul wanted Timothy to take Mark and bring him, for he was useful for ministry, along with the cloak and parchments left in Troas with Carpus (2 Timothy 4:9-13). Alexander the coppersmith had harmed Paul, and Timothy was to be aware of him as well; none stood by Paul during his defense save the Lord who strengthened Paul to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles; Jesus would deliver Paul from evil works and would save Paul (2 Timothy 4:14-18). Paul provided some final people whom Timothy was to greet, gave news about Erastus in Corinth and Trophimus left ill in Miletus, another encouragement to come, this time adding to come before winter, and those who greeted Timothy, concluding with a standard epistolary conclusion (2 Timothy 4:19-22).
No writing of Paul proves as intimate, raw, visceral, and pained as his second letter to Timothy. We feel his anguish and suffering in his circumstances yet can perceive his faith and conviction in Christ and confidence in his salvation. We do well to draw encouragement from Paul’s example and exhortations to Timothy; may we continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, entrusting the message to faithful men to proclaim to others also, and maintain great confidence in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry