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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
2 Timothy 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

II.

(1) Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.—St. Paul, after the reference to the faithless Asiatics and the true loyal Onesiphorus, with which he interrupted his exhortation, turns again to Timothy. Thou therefore (oun), my son, considering what has taken place, be strong. It is as though he said, Imitate the one loyal follower, and make up to me for the faithless conduct of so many false friends. “Thou, then, be strong,” but not as men understand strength or firmness; but do thou be strong “in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”—that is, be strong in the power of that inward sanctification which enables a man to will and to do according to what God has commanded, in the power of that inward sanctification which alone proceeds from Christ, and which will never be wanting to any one who is in Christ; in other words, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).


Verse 2

(2) And the things that thou hast heard of me.—These “things” have been often understood as referring to the few great fundamental truths rehearsed by the Apostle, in the presence of the elders of the congregation, on the occasion of Timothy’s solemn ordination. “The things,” then, would have been something of the nature of what is contained in a creed or profession of faith. But it is better to give to “the things” which Timothy had heard of St. Paul, and which he was to deliver to other faithful men in his turn, a much broader reference, and to understand them as comprehending far more than the narrow limits of a profession of faith could possibly contain. “The things” were, no doubt, the sum of St. Paul’s teaching, the general conception of Pauline theology, which Timothy, so long the Apostle’s intimate and confidential friend and disciple, was to give out to another generation of believers. It was, in fact, the “Gospel of St. Luke”—“my Gospel,” as we love to think St. Paul termed that matchless summary of the life and teaching of the Blessed. It was the theology shrined in such Epistles as those once written to the Romans or Ephesians in past years. These “things” again and again, in crowded congregations, before Jewish and Christian elders, before assemblies composed of idolaters, had Timothy heard that master of his, with his winning, pleading voice, tell out among “many witnesses.” Those “things” Timothy, in his turn, the voice of St. Paul the Aged being hushed, was now to commit to others.

Among many witnesses.—These, according to the above interpretation, included Pagans and Jews, the rich and poor, the untaught sinners of the Gentiles and the skilled rabbi trained in the schools of Jerusalem and Alexandria.

The same commit thou to faithful men.—Not to men merely who were “believers” in Jesus Christ. This, of course, was intended, but the “faithful men” here denoted loyal, trusty souls—men who, under no temptation, would betray the charge committed to them.

Who shall be able to teach others also.—Not only must the Christian teachers to whom Timothy is to give the commission of teaching, be trustworthy men, they must also possess knowledge and the power of communicating knowledge to others. Although the divine help was to be prayed for and expected in this and all other sacred works, yet it is noticeable how St. Paul directs that no ordinary human means of securing success must be neglected. St. Paul’s last charge in these Pastoral Letters of his, directed that only those shall be selected as teachers of religion whose earthly gifts were such as fitted them for the discharge of their duties. While there is nothing in this passage to support the theory of an authoritative oral teaching, existing from the days of the Apostles, in the Church—the words of St. Paul here point to the duty of the Christian soldier, not only himself to keep unchanged and safe the treasure of the Catholic faith as taught by the Apostle, but to hand down the same unimpaired and safe to other hands.

The great Christian truths were never allowed to be recklessly handled. There was a school, so to speak, of Christian theology in the time of St. Paul. His dying charge directed his best beloved disciple to make careful provision for the choice and training of teachers in the congregation. Men able as well as willing, gifted as well as zealous, should be the objects of his choice.

Some have imagined that these directions respecting the handing down the lamp of Christian truth to others were given to Timothy with a view to his leaving Ephesus—the appointed scene of his labours—for Rome, to join the imprisoned Apostle (2 Timothy 4:9), in which event men able as well as devoted should be left in this great centre to carry on the work of Timothy and of St. Paul. But it is far better to understand St. Paul’s charge as given to Timothy, a representative leader of the Church of Christ, and to understand the Apostle’s words as addressed to the Church of all times. The runners in the Christian race must take good care before they fall out of the course that their torches, still burning, be handed on to the athletes who take their place.


Verse 3

(3) Thou therefore endure hardness.—The older authorities do not contain the Greek word rendered “thou therefore.” The word translated “endure hardness” in the older authorities is compounded with a preposition, and is better and more literally rendered, take thy share in suffering. But Timothy must remember, if he obeys St. Paul’s voice, and with steady earnestness follows St. Paul’s tracks, the very same sufferings which have been the master’s guerdon will be the lot of the loyal disciple. So St. Paul adds, “Take thy share of suffering,” or, “Suffer hardship with me.” Timothy must be prepared for this. He must look on himself as one of the pioneers of the army of the great King, as a tried veteran, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, prepared for the dangers and trials which in those days awaited such a calling. Then, under three different pictures, the Apostle paints the duties and rewards of a Christian’s life.


Verse 4

(4) No man that warreth . . .—Better rendered, while engaged on military service, or serving as a soldier. The first picture is suggested by the last simile (in 2 Timothy 2:3). It was one very familiar to the numerous peoples dwelling under the shadow of the Roman power, this picture of the soldier concerned only in the military affairs of the great empire—the legionary wrapped up in his service, with no thought or care outside the profession of which he was so proud. None of these sworn legionaries have aught to do with buying or selling, with the Forum, or any of the many employments of civil life. So should it be with the earnest and faithful Christian; paramount and above any earthly considerations ever must rank his Master’s service, his Master’s commands.

The soldier of Christ should never allow himself to be entangled in any earthly business which would interfere with his duty to his own General. But while this general reference to all members of the Church lies on the outside, beneath the surface a solemn injunction may surely be read, addressed to Timothy and to others like him in after times specially engaged in the ministry of the Word and in matters connected with the government of the Church of Christ. And so the Catholic Church has generally understood this direction to Timothy as warning her ministers from engaging in secular pursuits, either connected with business or pleasure.

That he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.—More accurately rendered, who enrolled him as a soldier. Only those soldiers who with heart and soul devote themselves to their military work win the heart of their commander. The question has been asked, What of St. Paul’s own example and that of other of the early Christian teachers, such as Aquila? did not they, at all events from time to time, pursue a secular calling—that of tent-makers? The reply here is not a difficult one. The Jewish life in those days contemplated and even desired that its rabbis and teachers should be acquainted with, and even, if necessary, practise some handicraft. The well-known Hebrew saying, “He that teacheth not his son a trade teacheth him to be a thief,” is a proof of this. In the case of these early teachers, this occasional practice of an industry or a trade brought them more directly into contact with their Jewish brethren. It was thus among the Jewish people that the Hebrew rabbi often passed imperceptibly into a Christian teacher. It must also be borne in mind that in St. Paul’s case, and also in the case of the presbyters of the first and second age, especially if missionaries, it was impossible always to ensure subsistence, unless by some exertions of their own they maintained themselves. It was, too, most desirable that these pioneers of Christianity should ever be above all reproach of covetousness, or even of the suspicion that they wished for any earthly thing from their converts. That however, it was not intended that any such combination of work—at once for the Church and for the world—should be the rule of ecclesiastical order in coming days, the positive and very plain directions of 1 Corinthians 9:1-15 are decisive, and incapable of being misunderstood.


Verse 5

(5) And if a man also strive for masteries.—More accurately translated, again, if a man strive in the games. Another picture is drawn, and the picture is, as before, a well-known one to all the dwellers in the great cities of the empire. An athlete is chosen to represent the professed servant of Christ, one of those who, after long and careful training, contends in the public games, then so popular, so entirely a part of the life of every city—in the games of wrestling or running, or in the chariot-racing, or in the hand-to-hand contests. Again, this one—as in the case of the soldier—if he aspired to victory and success, must “endure hardness.”

Except he strive lawfully.—“Lawfully”—i.e. according to the prescribed conditions of the contest. He must, of course, submit himself to the strict rules of the theatre where the games are held, and (for this is also included in the “lawfully”) must besides—if he hopes for a prize—go through all the long and severe training and discipline necessary before engaging in such a contest. Galen uses the same phrase, in the sense of complying with the recognised rules of training as regarding diet.


Verse 6

(6) The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.—Again the picture is painted from every-day life. “The husbandman that laboureth”—with an emphasis upon “that laboureth”—is the successful tiller of the ground; “the labouring husbandman” it is, for whom the earth brings forth her increase. It is the enduring, patient, self-sacrificing toil that is rewarded in the affairs of common life—the man that “endures hardness,” whether as a soldier, or athlete, or tiller of the ground, wins the reward; and as in the world, so in religion. Further on in the Epistle the Apostle speaks of his having won the crown of righteousness. He had endured hardness of every conceivable kind; every affliction for the Lord’s sake he had endured save death, and that he was expecting, and knew it could not long tarry. The teaching of St. Paul in this triple picture is—not every soldier wins its commander’s applause, but only the veteran who devotes himself heart and soul to his profession; not every athlete wins the crown or prize, but only he who trains with anxious, painful care; not every tiller of the ground gathers the earth’s fruits, but only the patient toiler. So must it be in religious life. It is not enough to say we are Christians, or even to wish to be of the brotherhood of Christ. Men must really live the life they say they love.


Verse 7

(7) Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.—The older authorities read here will give; also instead of “and the Lord,” the translation should be, for the Lord. Thus the sentence should run: for the Lord will give thee understanding in all things. Some difficulty has been found in explaining exactly why, when we look at the foregoing words, Timothy should be so specially charged to consider St. Paul’s words here, and why the declaration respecting “understanding in all things” was made in this particular place. Theophylact suggested because the preceding exhortations were in the form of metaphors, “he spake all things in an enigmatical form:” but surely these metaphors were the reverse of obscure, and did not seem to need for their comprehension any special enlightenment; if then we refer the words of this verse exclusively to what precedes, it will be best to understand the charge of St. Paul, “Consider what I say,” &c., as directing Timothy’s attention to the personal application of each of the pictures, or metaphors. It seems, however, that the words “Consider,” &c., while referring to what he had said, belong also to the far weightier words he was about to write in the next sentence (2 Timothy 2:8). He is in this chapter exhorting Timothy to be strong in the faith in the face of many troubles. He has instanced to him earthly examples to show how success, even here, depends on enduring perseverance, and is now passing on to set before him other and far higher inducements for him “to be strong;” and between the first set of arguments and the second he bids him “Consider what I say” (part has been said, but yet other and deeper things are to follow). God will five him power to grasp their meaning in all their depth.


Verse 8

(8) Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead.—More accurately rendered, Remember Jesus Christ . . . as raised (or, as one raised). The words of the Greek original, “of the seed of David,” come after, not before, “was raised from the dead.” The translation should run thus: Remember Jesus Christ as one raised from the dead, born of the seed of David. Timothy was to remember, was ever to bear in mind, two great facts. They were to be the foundation stones of his whole life’s work. Remembering these in the hour of his greatest trouble, he was never to be cast down, but ever to take fresh courage. And the two facts he was to remember were: that Jesus Christ, for whose sake he suffered—like him, Timothy, or like St. Paul—was born of flesh and blood, and yet He had risen from the dead. Surely, in the hour of his weakness, such a thought would be sufficient to inspire him with comfort and courage. Two facts, then, are to be ever in Timothy’s mind: the Resurrection and the Incarnation of his Lord. The thought of the first mentioned, “the Resurrection,” would always be reminding him of his Master’s victory over death and of His present glory. The thought of the second mentioned, “born of the seed of David,” “the Incarnation,” would ever be whispering to him, “Yes, and the risen and glorified One sprang, too, like himself, from mortal flesh and blood.” The reason of the “Incarnation” being expressed in this special manner, “born of the seed of David,” was to include another truth. The “risen One “was not only born of flesh and blood, but belonged to the very race specified in those prophets so revered by Timothy and the chosen people as the race from which should spring the Messiah: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth . . . and this is His name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). To raise the fainting heart of his much-tried disciple in this hour of discouragement, to supply a ground of confidence to yet unborn Christians, who in their day would be tried as Timothy was then, was the Apostle’s first purpose when he pressed these thoughts on his son in the faith; but in the background, no doubt, there lay another purpose. These great comforting truths were to be maintained and taught in the presence of those false teachers who were ever ready to explain away or even to deny, then as now, the beginning and the end of the Son of God’s life and ministry on earth—His Incarnation and His Resurrection.

According to my gospel.—This formula, for so it may be considered, occurs frequently in St. Paul’s Epistles (Romans 2:16, and again Romans 16:25, and in other places), and, with very slight variations, in 1 Timothy 1:11 and 1 Corinthians 15:1. Jerome’s remark, “As often as St. Paul in his Epistles writes ‘according to my Gospel,’ he refers to the volume of Luke,” although received with reserve by many expositors, considering the weighty traditional evidence we possess of St. Luke’s Gospel being in reality written by St. Paul, appears on the whole substantially correct.


Verse 9

(9) Wherein I suffer trouble.—Here St. Paul bids Timothy take courage, by thinking of the brave, patient example he was setting him in his Roman prison, undaunted and full of hope. “Wherein I suffer:” in which, that is, discharging my office as a preacher of the gospel, I suffer trouble.

As an evil doer.—Better rendered, as a malefactor: the same word used in St. Luke’s Gospel for the two thieves crucified with Jesus Christ (Luke 23:32-33; Luke 23:39).

Even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.—A prisoner in chains and, as he tells us further on in the Epistle, expecting death, and yet he still could write and pray and speak from his narrow prison. Surely his disciple, still free, ought to work on with undiminished spirit and zeal. Though St. Paul was in bonds, his sufferings and imprisonment had in no way weakened the power of the gospel.


Verse 10

(10) Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes.—Better rendered, For this cause I endure, &c.—that is, I endure all things in order that the “word of God,” which, unlike its preacher, I have just declared to be confined by no bonds—in order that that “word” may be widely spread and disseminated: for this reason do I, as a faithful soldier at my post, bear up with quiet, patient courage against suffering; and I do it for the elect’s sakes, that is, for those whom, in His infinite mercy, God has been pleased to choose as His people, for those who, in His unfathomable love, are yet to be brought into the one fold. And this brave and steadfast endurance on the part of St. Paul contributed to the furtherance of God’s projects for gathering these elect in this wise—(1) His endurance, his patient, gallant witness in suffering, would serve as an example to many, not only to the generation then living, but to countless men and women yet unborn; and (2) his faithful, true preaching, now that his voice was hushed, in such writings as this Epistle to Timothy, would help, through the ages to come, to draw countless others, in accordance with the divine counsels, into fellowship with Christ. The question has been often asked, whether those “elect” or whom the Apostle endured these things were, when he wrote these words, believers. This point has already been touched upon; it may, however, be here answered, with some certainty, that the “elect” here spoken of include both believers and unbelievers. The first—the believer—would in all ages be built up by the contemplation of the steadfastness under suffering of St. Paul; the second—the unbeliever—would be won to the faith by the divinely-inspired arguments and exhortations which the brave old man ceaselessly spoke or wrote down in prison just as when free. How could one like St. Paul, who was conscious that he himself had won the “salvation,” not patiently endure all things, if such an endurance could help the elect to obtain that salvation which delivered those who obtained it from the misery of sin and death, and which besides—O blessed thought!—had the sure prospect of eternal glory?


Verse 11

(11) For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him.—The last sentence ended with the words “eternal glory”—the goal, the end of the salvation which is in Christ. This it is which the Apostle will help others to win, regardless of any suffering it may cost him; then, with his mind full of the thoughts of the “eternal glory,” once more he addressed himself to Timothy. “Faithful is the saying, namely, if we be dead with him,” &c. It was as though he said, “Do you not remember that well-known watchword of our own faith, so often repeated among us in our solemn assemblies when the brotherhood meet together?” Many have supposed, from the rhythmical character of the clauses of 2 Timothy 2:11-13, that this “saying” was taken from some most ancient Christian hymns, composed and used in the very earliest days of the faith; but whether or no this be the case, there is high probability that the words formed part of a liturgy in common use in the days of Timothy. If not as a hymn—which seems, on the whole, the most likely supposition—we can well conceive them as part of the tapestry of a primitive Christian liturgy, woven in like the introductory sentences in our morning and evening prayer, or like the “comfortable words” of the Communion Service. The expression “If we be dead with Him”—more accurately, If we died with Him—is well explained by 1 Corinthians 15:31 : “I die daily.” The Apostle died when he embraced the lot of daily death. The meaning is still further illustrated in 2 Corinthians 4:10, where we read how St. Paul and his companions were “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” “He and his faithful companions (was Timothy, to whom he was then writing, to be ranked in this blessed company? ) had given themselves up to a life that involved exposure to sufferings, bitter enmity, cruel persecutions, even death; but if we be thus dead with Him, what matters it? How can we fear even that last agony man can inflict on us—physical death?—for death with Him involves, surely, life with Him too: that life endless, fadeless, full of glory, we know He is now enjoying, in the possession of which I, Paul, and some of us have even seen Him, face to face, eye to eye. In that life of His we shall share; we shall be partakers in this life of His there, but only if we have shared in the life of suffering which was His life here.”


Verse 12

(12) If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.—And the faithful saying went on with this stirring declaration. How, it seems to ask, can a believer in Christ shrink from suffering, when he knows what to him will be the glorious consequences of this present suffering? The word rendered “suffer” would be better translated, if we endure—that is, if we bravely bear up against sufferings for His sake, and all the while work on with hand and brain for Him and for our brother as best we can. If we do this in this life, we shall, in the life to come, reign with Him—more than merely live with Him, as the last verse told us: we shall even “be kings with Him.” (See Romans 5:17; Romans 8:17; and Revelation 1:6, where Jesus Christ is especially spoken of as having made us “kings.”) The promise thus woven into the faithful saying, and repeated in these several passages, of the “reign of the saints in Christ,” gives us a strangely glorious hope—a marvellous on-look, concerning the active and personal work which Christ’s redeemed will be intrusted with in the ages of eternity.

If we deny him, he also will deny us.—But there is another side to the words of the Blessed. While to the faithful and the believer He will grant to sit down with Him on His throne, the faithless and unbeliever will have no share in the glories of the life to come. These grave warnings are apparently addressed rather to unfaithful members of the outward and visible Church, than to the Pagan world who have never known Christ. The words, “He also will deny us,” imply something of a recognition on the part of us who are denied by Him—something of an expectation on our part that He would recognise us as friends. They are evidently an echo of the Lord’s own sad reply to those many who will say to Him in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? . . . and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23. See too Matthew 10:33 and Mark 8:33.)


Verse 13

(13) If we believe not.—Better rendered, if we are faithless—that is, untrue to the vows of our Christian profession. The faithlessness implies more than mere unbelief in any of the fundamental doctrines of the faith, such as the Resurrection of the Lord or His divinity.

Yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.—Those who have understood these words as containing soothing, comforting voices for the sinner, for the faithless Christian who has left his first love, are gravely mistaken. The passage is one of distinct severity—may even be termed one of the sternest in the Book of Life; for it tells how it is impossible even for the pitiful Redeemer to forgive in the future life. “He cannot deny Himself”—cannot treat the faithless as though he were faithful—cannot act as though faithfulness and faithlessness were one and the same thing. The Christian teacher, such as Timothy, and the members of his flock likewise, must remember that, sure and certain as are the promises of glory and happiness to those who love the Lord and try to live His life, so surely will fall the chastisement on all who are faithless and untrue.

With the solemn words of this “faithful saying” St. Paul closes this, the second division of his Epistle—fellowship in the sufferings of Christ here, on this side the grave, and fellowship in the glory of Christ there, on the other side the grave—the one side was the sure consequence of the other; the one could not exist without the other.


Verse 14

(14) Of these things put them in remembrance.—A new division of the Epistle begins with this 14th verse. St. Paul has been urging Timothy to be strong in endurance, to bear trouble and suffering with brave patience. He now proceeds to charge him respecting the special work he has to do; and, first he deals with his duties as a teacher of truth brought face to face with teachers of error. He prefaces his directions by bidding him, in the forefront of his teaching, “put them” (that is, those over whom he was placed: the members of his Ephesian flock) “in remembrance of these things”—namely, of those great and solemn truths set forth in 2 Timothy 2:11-13, and which may be briefly summed up in the words: “Fellowship with Christ in suffering will be succeeded by fellowship with Christ in glory.” Surely such lofty, soul-inspiring thoughts as these will form the best safeguard against the pitiful controversies and disputes about words, which were occupying the thoughts and wasting the lives of so many in Ephesus called by the name of Christ.

Charging them before the Lord.—Better rendered, solemnly charging them before the Lord . . . In all Timothy’s solemn addresses to his flock he is, St. Paul reminds him, charging his people “before the Lord”—a very earnest, solemn thought for every public teacher, and one calculated now, as then, to deepen the life of one appointed to such an office. There was a grave danger that such empty, profitless disputes about words and expressions, which, we know, occupied the attention of many of the Ephesian so called Christian teachers, would end in distracting the minds of the members of the several congregations, who would naturally take their tone, in matters connected with religious life, from their teacher; and thus words would soon come to be substituted for acts in the lives of those men and women called by the name of Christ in Ephesus. (See 1 Timothy 6:4, where these “strifes of words” are mentioned among the special characteristics of the false teachers.)

But to the subverting of the hearers.—Not only are such arguments and disputes useless and profitless, but they are positively mischievous. In the long history of Christianity, St. Paul’s repeated warning respecting the danger of these disputes about theological terms and expressions has been sadly verified. Such contentions serve only to unsettle the mind, only to shake true faith, only to distract the one who gives himself up to this fatal pursuit, from real, earnest, patient work for Christ.


Verse 15

(15) Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.—Timothy, and those in the position of Timothy, were to show themselves approved unto God, by turning others, over whom they possessed influence, from the pursuit of vain and unprofitable things. Then their work would be the work of workmen tested by trial, and would be found to have stood the test. (Comp. here 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, where the final testing of the work done by God’s workmen, such as Timothy, is spoken of in very clear, heart-searching language.) His own words in the First Epistle to the Corinthians were evidently in St. Paul’s mind when he wrote down this direction to Timothy.

Rightly dividing the word of truth.—Better rendered rightly laying out the word of truth. The Greek word translated in the English version “rightly dividing,” literally signifies “cutting a straight line.” It seems most correct to regard it as a metaphor from laying out a road (see Proverbs 3:6, in the LXX. rendering, where the word is so used), “or drawing a furrow, the merit of which consists in the straightness with which the work of cutting, or laying out, is performed. The word of truth is, as it were, a road which is to be laid out straightly and truly.” So Ellicott. To affirm (see Alford and Huther-Meyer) that the notion of “cutting” had been gradually lost, and that the word already in the time of St. Paul signified simply “to manage rightly,” “to treat truthfully without falsifying,” and that the exact opposite is to corrupt or adulterate the Word of God (2 Corinthians 2:17), seems premature. (Comp. Eur. Rhesus, 422, ed. Dindorf.)

In the third century, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 7), for instance, certainly uses the word in a sense in which the idea of “cutting” has been lost, when he writes orthotomia (a substantive) as an equivalent for orthodoxia—orthodoxy. It is not improbable that the use of the word here by St. Paul gave the word a fresh starting-point, and that gradually the original meaning passed out of sight.


Verse 16

(16) But shun profane and vain babblings.—But, in strong contrast to the conduct just urged, on the workman of God, do thou avoid (or, withdraw thyself from) vain babblings. The word rendered “shun” is a strong one, and signifies literally, to make a circuit so as to avoid; or, as Alford paraphrases it, “the meaning seems to come from a number of persons falling back from an object of fear or loathing, and standing at a distance round it.” The word is used in Titus 3:9. On the words “profane,” “vain-babblings,” see 1 Timothy 6:20.

For they will increase unto more ungodliness.—Better translated, for they will advance unto . . . The tendency of these useless discussions and idle disputes is to lead men into vain and profitless speculations, which end too often—as in the case, cited below, of Hymenæus and Philetus—in the most fatal doctrinal error. The close connection between grave fundamental errors in doctrine and a lax and purely selfish life is constantly alluded to by St. Paul.


Verse 17

(17) And their word will eat as doth a canker.—Better rendered, as in the margin of the English translation, as doth a gangrene, the usual rendering of the various English versions. “Cancer,” which is adopted also by Luther—krebs—fails to express the terrible and deathly nature of the “word” of these false teachers. The life of the sufferer afflicted with cancer may be prolonged for many years; a few hours, however, is sufficient to put a term to the life of the patient attacked with “gangrene,” unless the limb affected be at once cut away. To translate this Greek word here by “cancer” is to water down the original, in which St. Paul expresses his dread of the fatal influence of the words of these teachers on the lives of many of the flock of Christ. Perhaps Jerome’s words, “a perverse doctrine, beginning with one, at the commencement scarcely finds two or three listeners; but little by little the cancer creeps through the body” (Jerome. in Epist. ad Gal.), has suggested the rendering of the English Version.

Of whom is Hymenæus and Philetus.—Of these false teachers nothing is known beyond the mention, in the First Epistle to Timothy, of Hymenæus, who, regardless of the severe action which had been taken against him (1 Timothy 1:20), was apparently still continuing in his error. Vitringa thinks they were Jews, and probably Samaritans. Their names are simply given as examples of the teachers of error to whom St. Paul was referring—famous leaders, no doubt, in their cheerless school of doctrine.


Verse 18

(18) Who concerning the truth have erred.—Or, have erred, or, more literally, have missed their aim. (See Note on 1 Timothy 6:21.)

The resurrection of the body, grounded upon the Lord’s own words (John 5:28-29), was one of the Articles of the Christian faith upon which St. Paul especially loved to dwell. (See, for instance, his words before Felix—Acts 24:15.) With this “resurrection of the body” St. Paul, prompted by the Holy Ghost, taught men that the future state of rewards and punishments was intimately bound up; the soul will be clothed with a body of glory or with a body of shame, according to the deeds done in the flesh. This doctrine appears, in very early times, to have been questioned by some in the Christian community. Then, as now, was the thought repugnant to the shrinking soul of man,—that the body in which he then lived and sinned would rise again.

Elaborated, but still scarcely disguised, the same denial of a bodily resurrection was a characteristic of the more important of the widely-spread Gnostic systems of the second and third centuries.

These early Christian followers of men like Hymenæus and Philetus had much in common with the ascetic Jewish sects of Essenes and Therapeutæ, and especially with the famous Sadducean school, which attracted then so many cultured and wealthy Jews. They opposed, to use Van Oosterzee’s words, “their own sickly idealism to St. Paul’s strong and healthy realism.” Death and resurrection, with these early opponents of St. Paul, were terms which had only a spiritual meaning and application. As Waterland puts it, “They allegorised away the doctrine, and turned all into figures and metaphors.”

Another consideration must not be lost sight of when we are considering the reasons for St. Paul’s fiery indignation with this unhappy school of dreamers. In attacking, with their thinly-veiled scepticism, the great doctrine of the resurrection of the body, in pushing aside the glorious hope, they touched with their impious hands the corner-stone of all Christian belief—the resurrection in the body of the Redeemer. This Resurrection was indeed past already.


Verse 19

(19) Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure.—Better rendered, Nevertheless God’s firm foundation standeth. Nevertheless, that is to say, though some may be shaken in faith by the unhappy teaching above referred to, yet assuredly God’s firm foundation stands unshaken. “The firm foundation laid by God” is the Church of Christ, which is here termed a foundation laid by God, because it, the Church of Christ, is the ground-storey of the glorious Temple of the future. In other words, the Church of Christ is here considered as the foundation of a far grander building, which, in the fulness of time, will rest upon its massive work (see Ephesians 2:19-22)., and this ground-storey, the corner-stone of which is Christ, “standeth” age after age, in spite of any efforts which may be made to destroy or even to shake it. The term “foundation,” here used for the Church of God on earth, is remarkable, and points to a great truth: that, after all, this life is but a beginning, and that “His Church” here is but a foundation—is only the first and early storey of that glorious Church the Divine Architect has planned, and will complete in heaven.

Having this seal.—It was a custom, which dates back from the very earliest times, to inscribe upon a building or a monument an inscription which told of its origin and purpose. In some cases, as in the oldest monuments of Egypt, the engraved writing told the name of the royal or priestly builder; so in Revelation 21:14, we read how in the wall of the City of God there were twelve foundations, and on them were engraved the names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. On this “foundation storey,” of which St. Paul was now speaking, was carved a legible inscription in two sentences—the one told of comfort and hope, reminding men God would ever know “His own;” the other told of duty, reminding men that “God’s own” had no share in unrighteousness. It is called “a seal” here instead of an inscription, for a seal best conveys the idea of the solemn binding character of the writing.

The Jew was especially accustomed to see the words and promises of his God written or graven on his doorposts and on his gates. (See Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20. See, too, the words of Job 19:24, where he would have his most solemn declaration of faith graven or sealed on a rock for ever.)

The Lord knoweth them that are his.—This was the first sentence of the inscription graven on the foundation-storey. The words were probably a memory of Numbers 16:5; but the thought here goes far deeper. God’s own people, as they read the words graven on the foundation “with an iron pen and with lead for ever,” are ever reminded of their deepest, highest, truest comfort. “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” The words may be paraphrased: “He knows His own because He loves them;” never will He cease to know them, but will keep them for ever and for ever. Compare, too, the words of the Good Shepherd (John 10:14; John 10:27-29).

And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.—The thought and the words are from the Old Testament. The thought is expressed in a wider and more general form in Isaiah 52:11 : “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing . . . Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord;” and for the words “nameth the name of the Lord,” see Isaiah 26:13. “Naming the name of Jesus” must be understood in the sense of the last clause of 1 Corinthians 12:3; in other words, this sentence of the inscription signifies that no man confessing with the heart that Jesus is Lord can commit iniquity deliberately—the two things are utterly incompatible. “Iniquity” here includes the teaching of those false men above alluded to, as their teaching led away from the truth, and resulted in a lax and evil way of life.


Verse 20

(20) But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver.—The Apostle goes on with the same thought of the “Church of God on earth,” but he changes the imagery. He has been speaking of this Church as the “foundation-storey that cannot be moved” of a still more glorious edifice. He now, as it were, answers a question which would naturally occur to Timothy and to many a devout reader or hearer of the Epistle when they came to this part of the argument. How comes it, then, one would ask, that in this visible Church on earth are so many unworthy members? How is it that in this changeless, abiding foundation of the great Temple of the future, against which all earthly storms may beat, and yet never shake its massive storeys, so many useless crumbling stones are taken for the building?

In a great house, argues St. Paul—still thinking of the Church, but changing the foundation image for that of a great house—are always found two distinct kinds of vessels—the precious and enduring, and also the comparatively valueless and lasting for out a little while; the first kind are destined for honour, the second for dishonour. In St. Paul’s mind, when he wrote these words, the natural sequel to his far-reaching and suggestive comparison of the “foundation” (2 Timothy 2:19) were the words of his Master, who had once compared His Church to a drag-net of wide sweep, including in its take something of every kind out of the vast sea-world. The “net”—His Church—was together and to hold in its meshes its great take—the good and the bad, the useful and the useless—till the end of the world. So St. Paul writes how in a great house there must be these varieties of vessels—some for honour, others for dishonour. By these vessels the genuine and spurious members of the Church are represented as forming two distinct classes; and in these classes different degrees of honour and dishonour besides exist—the vessels of gold and silver, the vessels of wood and of earth. To Timothy these comparisons would at once suggest the true and false teachers in his Church at Ephesus; but the reference is a far broader one, and includes all members of the Church of Christ. The enduring nature of the metals gold and silver are contrasted with the perishable nature of the other materials, wood and earth. The former will remain a part of the Church for ever; the latter will only endure until the end of the world.


Verse 21

(21) If a man therefore purge himself from these.—Again the reference is general, but there was a special thought for Timothy when St. Paul wrote this. If he would separate from all that was evil in his Church at Ephesus, then would he indeed be one of those golden vessels unto honour. The image of the great house, and its many and varied vessels, though still not quite lost sight of, is passing out of sight. This verse changes into a note of direct exhortation. The good and faithful must separate themselves from the evil and faithless. The thought of those deniers of the resurrection of the body was uppermost in St. Paul’s mind. There must, as it has been well said, be no communion on the part of God’s servants with impugners of fundamentals. It was imperatively necessary for Timothy—and, by implication, for all members of Christ’s Church—if they aimed at becoming vessels for honour in the great Temple, to break off from all Church fellowship, from all intimate friendship, with those above referred to under the image of wooden or earthen vessels.

He shall be a vessel unto honour.—Chrysostom’s note upon these words is somewhat remarkable. He points out the possibility of the vessel for dishonour becoming a vessel for honour, and the reverse; and refers to St. Paul, once an earthen vessel, who became a vessel of gold, and to the traitor Judas, who, on the other hand, from being a vessel of gold became an earthen vessel.

Meet for the master’s use.—Or, useful for the master (of the house). “Useful,” as the next sentence shows us, through those good works by means of which others’ needs are ministered to, and the salvation of others is furthered, and the glory of God is increased.

Prepared unto every good work.—“Prepared”—that is, ready to take advantage of any opportunity which may offer itself to do a generous, noble action. So, too, Chrysostom, who would have the “vessel unto honour” ready for every emergency which would enhance the glory of the Lord—ready even for death, or (any painful) witness.


Verse 22

(22) Flee also youthful lusts.—But he who would indeed become a “vessel for honour” in that great house of God must do more than merely separate himself from all outward communion and friendship with men who, by their teaching and in their lives, did dishonour to the Master’s religion. There was an inner work to be accomplished, as well as an outer and more public protest to be made. He must fight with and conquer those lusts, passions, and desires which are more peculiarly tempting to those who are still in the meridian of life. That Timothy was not now in early manhood has been already shown. He was at this time, probably, between thirty and forty years of age. These youthful lusts are by no means to be limited to those varied and fatal excesses summed up in the Seventh Commandment. A victory over these, of course, is imperatively necessary for one who would be “of use” in the house of his God: but such a one must train himself to subdue other and far more subtle lusts than are included in these. He must be watchful and stamp down all covetousness, whether of rank or gold; all longing for empty shows; all pride, conceit, readiness to take offence; all the kindred forms of love of self.

But follow righteousness, faith, charity. See Note on 1 Timothy 6:11, where the same charge occurs.

Peace.—This last, “peace,” must be joined with the words immediately following: “with them that call on the Lord,” &c. The “peace” here signifies absence of contention: it is well paraphrased by, “that spiritual concord which unites together all who call upon and who love their Lord,” Theodoret thus draws a distinction between “love” and “peace”:—“It is possible to love all, and this the gospel law enjoins us in the words, ‘Love your enemies:’ but to be at peace with all is not possible.” The words “out of a pure heart” contrast those holy and humble men of heart who servo God without any ulterior motive, with those false teachers who dare to make their religion a gain, a source of profit.


Verse 23

(23) But foolish and unlearned questions avoid.—The Greek word translated “unlearned” is better rendered ignorant. These “questions” which, as we have seen above, the false teachers, with whom Timothy was so much thrown, loved to put forward for discussion, could hardly be termed “unlearned”—much useless learning being often thrown away in these disputing of the schools—but were rather “pointless,” “stupid,” as well as foolish. The nature of these questions of controversy has been discussed above.

Knowing that they do gender strifes.—Knowing—as thou dost—from sad and frequent experience, what conflicts, heart-burnings, estrangements, these abstract questions between rival teachers and rival sects engendered.


Verse 24

(24) And the servant of the Lord must not strive.—Although these directions and commandments in all cases belong to God’s servants of every degree and calling, yet some of them, as we should expect from the nature of the Epistle, peculiarly apply to Timothy and those like Timothy specially devoted to the ministry of the Word. And so here everything which is likely to be the cause of strife, heart-burning, or hot words, is, St. Paul urges, singularly out of place in the life of a servant of that Lord who fulfilled to the letter that Isaiah prophecy of Messiah, “He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets.” (See Matthew 12:19-20.)

But be gentle unto all men.—Quiet and kind, not only to those belonging to the brotherhood of Christ, but, as is expressly mentioned, to all. It is noteworthy how, in these Pastoral Epistles—which contain, so to speak, the last general directions to believers in Jesus as to life as well as doctrine of perhaps the greatest of the inspired teachers—so many careful suggestions are given for the guidance of Christians in all their relations with the great heathen world. Conciliation may be termed the key-note of these directions. St. Paul would press upon Timothy and his successors the great truth that it was the Master’s will that the unnumbered peoples who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death should learn, by slow though sure degrees, how lovely and desirable a thing it was to be a Christian; should come at length to see clearly that Christ was, after all, the only lover and real friend of man.

Apt to teach, patient.—The Greek word is better rendered by the forbearing of the margin than by “patient.” Patient of wrong, however, best gives the full force of the original. This is what the servant of God should really aim at being: the teacher rather than the controversialist—rather the patient endurer of wrong than the fomenter of dissensions and wordy strifes.


Verse 25

(25) In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.—By “those that oppose themselves,” St. Paul alludes scarcely so much to those leading teachers of false doctrine as to those led away by them. In Titus 3:10 we read how these pronounced heretics—no doubt the teachers and leaders of the school—were, after a first and second admonition, to be shunned, were to be left to themselves. These, however, were evidently to be dealt with in a different manner. Their treatment was to be a gentle one. Nothing is here said respecting a first and second admonition only; no hint is given that these are to be shunned. They are clearly not the same as those referred to in Titus 3:10, or above in 2 Timothy 2:21 of this chapter, where, again, separation is definitely urged.

If God peradventure will give them repentance.—The Greek original here also carries out what was said in the Note on the last clause, and may be rendered literally, if perchance at any time God might grant to them . . . This suggests a hope at least that at some time or other God’s grace would work in these “opposing” members of the congregation a change. The “repentance” here signifies an abandonment on the part of those erring Christians of that wrong course on which they had entered, and a return to the true Church of God and to the full knowledge of the gospel truth.


Verse 26

(26) That they may recover themselves.—The literal meaning of the Greek word rendered “that they may recover themselves” is. that they may awake from drunkenness. The English version, however, gives the meaning with great exactness. Those taken in the snare of the devil are represented as not only captives in the snare of the devil, but as also helplessly wrapped in slumber.

The deadly peril of all “captives of sin” is here well painted. These unhappy ones, before they can free themselves from the toils of the evil one, must awake from the deep slumber in which they are wrapped: in other words, must first be conscious of their awful danger.

Who are taken captive by him at his will.—These words have been variously interpreted by commentators. The meaning that, on the whole, seems most satisfactory, represents the captive to sin waking up from his deathly slumber and escaping the toils of the evil one, for the purpose of carrying out for the future the will of God. The rendering of the whole verse would be as follows: “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil—being held captive by him—to do His (God’s) will.”

It must be remembered that the first pronoun in this sentence, “being held captive by him,” referred here to the devil, and the second pronoun in the sentence, “to do His will,” referred here to God, are represented in the Greek by two distinct words: the first by αὐ τοῦ, the second by ἐ κεί νου.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/2-timothy-2.html. 1905.

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Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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