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Monday, July 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy 2

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Lenski gave "Join in suffering what is bad" as the heading of this chapter.(F1) This is especially appropriate for the first 13 verses, and the last half of the chapter (2 Timothy 2:14-26) lays out appropriate guidelines to be followed by Timothy in dealing with disorders then descending upon the church. The impending persecution, perhaps already underway, the proliferation of noxious heresies, the emergence of evil teachers and the creeping terror emanating from the central government continue to loom in the background of this letter. In the previous chapter, Paul had mentioned two well known defectors, countered by the mention of Onesiphorus who remained faithful; and dominating this whole epistle is Paul’s urgent appeal for the faithfulness of Timothy no matter what might need to be suffered in connection with it.

As a great encouragement to Timothy, the last half of the chapter points out that there is no need to fear for the church, which is securely anchored against all errors and misfortunes. It is founded upon solid rock, and neither time nor savage persecutions will be able to destroy it.

Verses 1-2

Thou therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which thou hast heard from men among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

Be strengthened in the grace … Such passages as this admonish men to be strengthened; as White said:

Those who are exhorted to be strengthened are not merely passive recipients of an influence from without. The act of reception involves man’s cooperation with God.(F2)

The very grace that is designed to strengthen Christians is "in Christ." When believers are baptized into the Lord, their constant duty ever afterward is to maintain their identity as Christ and in Christ, a duty that enlists the full employment and constant cultivation of the total religious life of the individual. If men would be strengthened by the grace "in Christ," their continual prayers and devotions, their unceasing study and perseverance, must be orchestrated in such a manner as to build up in Christ the true spiritual life of the Christian.

The things which thou hast heard … This is a reference to the total gospel message as Timothy had been so long accustomed to hear it proclaimed by Paul. The school of scholars who find here any reference to "the succession of apostolic doctrine through apostolic men,"(F3) find what is not in the passage at all. As Hendriksen put it:

This expression undoubtedly refers to the entire series of sermons and lessons which the disciple had heard from the mouth of his teacher during all their association from the day when they first met.(F4)

Among many witnesses … This is not a reference to the people who heard Timothy confess Christ, nor to the witnesses of his being ordained to the ministry (in any exclusive sense), but it is a reference to all the many thousands encountered upon the mission fields where Paul and Timothy had proclaimed the gospel.

Verses 3-4

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service entangleth himself in the affairs of this life; that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier.

Good soldier of Christ Jesus … As often with Paul, he used metaphor in a very selective manner, only one side of soldiering coming to view here, namely, that quality of being willing to suffer that which is bad. Paul used the soldier metaphor also in speaking of the armor of God (Ephesians 6:13 f).

The affairs of this life … All Christians inevitably find themselves, in a sense, entangled with the affairs of the present life; and, therefore, most students are willing to accept such limitations on the meaning here as were supposed by Wesley, "any more than is unavoidable,"(F5) and Lipscomb, "It is not secular employment that is forbidden, but entanglement with it."(F6) Certainly they go much too far who suppose that this means preachers of the gospel should not touch any kind of physical or secular work. To begin with, the injunction here is not to preachers only, but to all followers of the Lord. Besides that, Paul himself worked at tent-making in order to support himself and his companions during their missionary labors. Zerr gave the practical thought here, that "Any kind of occupation whether right or wrong in itself that prevents a disciple from doing his duty would constitute the entangling affairs mentioned in this verse."(F7)

Verse 5

And if also a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully.

Paul made extensive use of such spectacles as the Olympian games, giving many comparisons regarding "the crown of life," "receiving the prize," "being encompassed with a great cloud of witnesses," "finishing the course," "running in a race," etc.; but here another use of the metaphor is given to stress the necessity of doing it God’s way. "Contending lawfully" means that the child of God must recognize the divine rules, endure the disciplines, fulfill all requirements regarding the proper enrollment, always abiding by the rules of the contest, if he hopes to receive eternal life. The great thesis of current times to the effect that "I’ll do it my way," "I’ll work out my own religion," etc. — all such notions are refuted by Paul’s words here.

Both this metaphor and that of the field-laborer (next verse) are likewise associated in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:7-10; 1 Corinthians 9:24 ff), where is also found a more extensive development of both figures. Timothy’s familiarity with Paul’s teaching from these analogies required only the briefest mention of them in such a letter as this.

Verse 6

The husbandman that laboureth must be the first to partake of the fruits.

Many see some kind of difficulty here, because Paul employed the same analogy in affirming the right of ministers to be supported financially, whereas such an application seems unlikely in this paragraph where the apostle is not at all stressing such a thing. Perhaps the intended application is that in striving so diligently to establish faith and endurance in others, Timothy himself will be the first to profit from such exhortations and strivings. White proposed that Paul might have meant that Timothy would benefit no matter how successful or unsuccessful his efforts might prove to be, thus: "The laborer receives his hire no matter how poor the crop may be; his wages are the first charge on the field"(F8) (See 1 Corinthians 9:10).

First to partake of the fruits … As a matter of truth, any minister of the gospel who labors to encourage and strengthen others is the first to partake of the new and greater strength himself. As Hendriksen put it, "His own faith is strengthened, his hope quickened, his love deepened and the flame of his gift enlivened."(F9)

Verse 7

Consider what I say; for the Lord shall give thee understanding in all things.

Plumptre rendered this verse, "Make the effort to reflect; for if thou do the Lord will give the discernment, which thou needest."(F10)

The word "consider" comes from Latin roots which mean, when taken together, "with the stars"; and, therefore, Plumptre’s rendition surely gives the thought. There is nothing more needed upon the part of rushing, harried, heedless multitudes than that of reflection upon life and death, their meaning and purpose, and the need of facing both in a frame of reference that takes the will of God into account. And yet, how difficult, how nearly impossible is it properly to reflect upon such things! Henry Ward Beecher, one Sunday, commenting upon the appearance of his great audience sitting under the panels of sunlight streaming through the great colored windows of the church, noted that:

Sometimes the audience has a scarf of yellow running over them, or one of blue, or one of red, according as the window is painted. Man’s reason is like a painted window; the light that goes through it and falls upon his conscience is bizarre, wrinkled, grotesque or distorted … Man’s understanding is like a window. The sunlight is all of one color, but all the light that goes through the window is not.(F11)

Therefore, let men take heed how they consider and reflect. Consideration is the bottom layer of all true faith and worship.

Verse 8

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel:

Risen from the dead … The constant theme of Paul’s preaching invariably stressed the resurrection of Christ from the dead; and, in the threatening situation under which Paul wrote, it was most appropriate that this should be stressed again. Of special significance is the mention in this connection of "the seed of David," stressing the fact of the humanity of Jesus, the fact of his having an earthly body just like ours, and that it was that body which was raised from the dead. Neither Timothy, therefore, nor any of the Christians need have the slightest fear of anything that Rome may be able to do to them.

According to my gospel … Of all the countless comments this student has read regarding the meaning of this expression, the most intriguing is the following:

Jerome remarked that, "As often as St. Paul in his epistles writes `according to my gospel’ he refers to the volume of Luke … Considering the weighty traditional evidence we possess of St. Luke’s gospel being in reality written by Paul, appears on the whole substantially correct."(F12)

That Paul in this expression always referred to the Gospel of Luke could also just as easily be true, regardless of the obviously incorrect notion that Paul wrote it. Even if Luke is the author, which we do not for a moment doubt, it was nevertheless composed during times when the beloved physician was a constant companion of Paul, and we may be certain, with very little element of speculation in the certainty, that Paul was intimately familiar with Luke’s gospel, and there would have been no inconsistency whatever in his calling it his own. Surely this understanding of the phrase is preferable to the heretical notion that Paul’s gospel was a brand new version of Christianity which offered salvation "by faith alone" instead of "by faith and obedience of the gospel."

Despite the above, however, it appears best to consider the passage as a reference to the total gospel as delivered both to Paul and to the Twelve, rather than as having any limited implication. Paul’s gospel was the same as that of all the apostles, and he used the possessive pronoun in exactly the same sense as when he said, "my God and my Saviour." This is true because 2 Timothy 2:9, immediately afterward, connects Paul’s hardship with "my gospel," there being no evidence at all that the gospel of Luke was any more connected with his sufferings than any other of the holy Scriptures.

Verse 9

wherein I suffer hardship unto bonds, as a malefactor; but the word of God is not bound.

The word of God is not bound … Paul comforted himself with the great truth that the Christian message had already been effectively planted upon earth. As Hervey put it:

Though they bind me with an iron chain, they cannot bind the gospel. While I am here shut up in prison, the word of God preached by a thousand tongues, is giving life and liberty to myriads of my brethren of the human race.(F13)

White affirmed that the Greek of this verse must be identified, not with any late first century or early second century dating of this epistle, but positively "with the Neronian period."(F14)

Verse 10

Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

For the elect’s sake … Disputes about whether this means those already saved or those to be saved in the future are pointless. All of the elect of all times and places truly benefit from the faithful suffering of the apostle Paul. Had there been any wavering on his part, any form of retraction, denial or adjustment of the holy message he had shouted up and down the ancient empire; had there been on Paul’s part the slightest evidence of his doubt concerning what he had taught; if he had ever given the tiniest indication of any willingness to compromise the truth to save his life — any such weakness of the apostle under pressure would have brought agony to the believers of all generations and shouts of triumph from their enemies. On the other hand, how reassuring is the seal of Paul’s martyrdom upon the apostolic testimony he delivered. This verse reveals the amazing truth that Paul knew the importance his sufferings would have throughout time to eternity for all of the elect. Therefore, he was more than willing to suffer on behalf of all who afterward might hear the gospel message and become Christians that they also may obtain the salvation! At the same time, his sufferings were for those already saved; because, if any moral failure had marred Paul’s life at this juncture, the faith of many Christians then living would have been destroyed by such a disaster.

The elect … Ward quite properly noted that "This text implies that it is not the bare fact of election that saves men. The gospel of Christ has to be preached even to the elect."(F15) The faithfulness of the elect even after they were saved "from their old sins" is likewise implied here; because the message of this verse is that such necessary fidelity would be greatly encouraged and aided by Paul’s faithful suffering of martyrdom.

Verses 11-13

Faithful is the saying: For if we died with him, we shall also live with him: if we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we shall deny him, he also will deny us: if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself.

All of the nonsense one reads about this and other metrical passages in Paul’s writings being "early liturgies" used by the church, or "fragments of hymns" sung by the earliest Christians should now be rejected. This letter was not written in the second century, as was once alleged, but in the period of Nero, as the Greek text shows; and there simply had not been sufficient time elapsed for hymns and liturgies to have been developed and to have gained popularity that would have justified Paul’s use of such things in his letters. The knee-jerk response to all allegations that this is part of a hymn or liturgy should be avoided. No evidence supports such a notion; it is quite unreasonable and absolutely unnecessary. The writings of Shakespeare are almost entirely written in the same style of metrical prose that one finds here. Was Shakespeare quoting the hymns of Medieval Englishmen? Neither was the apostle Paul.

Faithful is the saying … Lenski wrote:

We see that Paul is not quoting some ancient hymn as some think … Although we have symmetry in the sentences, this is not poetry, but Paul’s own prose.(F16)

Furthermore, there is no evidence that "faithful is the saying" constitutes any kind of popular formula for introducing a proverb. Where or when in the history of the world have popular proverbs needed to be "introduced" by any kind of preliminary identification? No. This is Paul’s own way of emphatically affirming the truth of the pithy statement he was about to write. It has exactly the same force as "Before God, I lie not" (Galatians 1:20; Romans 9:1; 2 Corinthians 11:31; 1 Timothy 2:7). Also, one of these affirmations is just as Pauline as the other.

If we died with him … "This is the death which occurs in baptism"(F17) (see Romans 6:3-5). Dying with Christ is a metaphorical reference to denying one’s self, contrition and repentance experienced at the time of being baptized "into his death." There are also legal implications of the most profound character connected with this: (1) when the sinner is baptized into Christ and identified with him "as Christ," he is therefore by God’s flat automatically entitled to all the privileges of the death of Christ; (2) he is dead to the law of Moses; (3) he has already paid (through the death of Christ) all the penalty of sin, etc.

We shall also live with him … That is, if we endure persecution, hatred, opposition and even death itself — if we do all this, we shall partake of the glory of Christ in heaven. In the light of this, how unpromising must be the hope of those who will not endure any hardship or suffering at all for the sake of the holy faith?

If we deny him, he also will deny us … Jesus himself said the same thing (Matthew 10:33). It is true that Peter denied the Lord, lived to repent of it, and was forgiven; but the denial in this passage speaks of a final decision, a deliberate choice of repudiation against the Lord. The following verse does not mitigate the severity of this passage.

If we are faithless … Gould thought that the sin in focus here was of a less reprehensible nature than that of denying Christ, saying, "This represents a failure not in belief, but in fidelity. Even for such a one there is still a remaining hope."(F18) However, the notion that faith exists (in any saving degree) where there is no longer fidelity is but a vagary of theological speculation. The true analysis of this place, as written by Spence, is appreciated:

Those who understand this passage as containing soothing, comforting voices for the sinner, for the faithless Christian who has left his first love, are gravely mistaken … This is one of the sternest passages in the Book of Life; for it tells how it is impossible for the pitiful Redeemer to forgive in the future life … He cannot treat the faithless as though he were faithful — cannot act as though faithfulness and faithlessness were one and the same thing.(F19)

Hendriksen also agreed that:

The meaning of the last line cannot be, "If we are faithless and deny him, nevertheless he, remaining faithful to his promise, will give us everlasting life."(F20)

The overall thought of the entire faithful saying should be carefully observed. As DeWelt summarized it, "Without a cross, there is no crown; without a thorn, there is no throne."(F21) All that Paul wrote to Timothy and his charges in Ephesus had in view the utter necessity of true fidelity and unwavering loyalty to Christ on the part of every Christian who hoped to share in the eternal reward.

He cannot deny himself … This truth is exactly parallel to Romans 6:18 and Titus 1:2, being therefore Pauline and having no connection whatever with any old proverb. Where in history was there ever such a proverb as this?

Verse 14

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them in the sight of the Lord, that they strive not about words, to no profit, to the subverting of them that hear.

In this, Paul moved to instruct Timothy with regard to the false teachers who had emerged in Ephesus.

Put them in remembrance of these things … That is, remind the Christians under his care in Ephesus of the soul-inspiring truths just enunciated in the faithful saying.

Strive not about words, to no profit … Needless and useless argumentation have been the bane of historical Christianity. At the time of the great Communist revolution in Russia, the Orthodox Church was engaged in a tremendous argumentative crisis over the making of church vestments! Many a time, Christians have plunged into useless and silly arguments while the citadel of their faith was destroyed. Not only are such arguments of no profit, as Paul said; but they are actively mischievous, destructive and subversive of true faith. Christians? They are commanded not to do it!

Verse 15

Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.

Practically all of the exegesis one encounters on this verse regards the Greek words here rendered "handling aright," and in the KJV, "rightly dividing" the word of truth. The words have the following basic meaning:

The compound verb (rightly dividing) means to "cut straight." Vincent defines the word, "to hold a straight course" (as plowing a straight furrow); and the Greeks used the word for "expound soundly."(F22)

The old expositors understood this as a reference to making the proper division between the law and the gospel, between the Old Testament and the New Testament; and, in view of the basic meaning of the words here rendered "handling aright," there is absolutely nothing wrong with such an exegesis. Certainly no preacher can "cut it straight," "tell it like it is," or employ "sound exegesis," without making these very distinctions clear in his preaching. How deplorable, therefore, is the attitude of some expositors who use the newer versions to poke fun at the old interpretations. As Lenski put it, "Certainly plenty of exegesis is crooked enough to call for careful cutting to set it straight."(F23) Alan G. Nute summed up the meaning of this verse as "An appeal for a straightforward, balanced exegesis of holy Scripture."(F24)

Verse 16

But shun profane babblings: for they will proceed further in ungodliness,

Shun … "This is a strong word and means literally to make a circuit so as to avoid."(F25)

Profane babblings … This refers especially to the striving about words to no profit, mentioned above. Those arguments which make frequent use of God’s name, and yet without honor and submission to God’s will, are actually profane in spite of any cloak of piety; and there are many religious discussions which fall squarely into this category.

They will proceed further … The end result of such disputations is not righteousness, but ungodliness.

Verses 17-18

and their word will eat as doth a gangrene: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; men who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some.

Will eat as doth a gangrene … The word here, according to White, "is the medical term for the consuming progress of mortifying disease";(F26) and once again the vocabulary of Paul’s close friend and companion, the beloved physician Luke, seems to have influenced that of the apostle.

Hymenaeus and Philetus … Having identified their teaching as "gangrene," Paul then proceeded to give one of the salient features of their false doctrine. They had spiritualized the resurrection, claiming that it had already happened. It may appear surprising that such a false notion would have been able to overthrow the faith of some, but history has demonstrated that the more ridiculous and preposterous some heretical teaching is, the more readily some unstable souls are attracted and destroyed by it.

It is not hard to see why Paul elected that particular phase of their false doctrine as the target of these words; for, in view of the impending death of many Christians in the great persecution, it had a special relevance for that time and circumstance.

Verse 19

Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his: and, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.

This and the following verses have a special relevance to Paul’s appeal to Timothy for fidelity no matter what might happen. As White said:

There is no need to despair of the church. It is founded upon a rock, in spite of appearances. Take a broad view of the case. The church is not the special apartment of the Master from which unseemly things are banished; it is a great house with places and utensils for every need of life.(F27)

The firm foundation of God standeth … Perhaps the best interpretation of this is to see it as a metaphor of the church, of which Jesus said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The figure is that of a great foundation for some mighty building; and, as it was common in ancient times, to engrave some seal or name upon the foundation, Paul gave the illustration of God’s seal upon the foundation which is the church.

The Lord knoweth them that are his: Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.

There are echoes of both of these sayings in the Old Testament (Numbers 16:5; Isaiah 51:11), but it is better to view them as Paul’s own inspired Scripture, and not as partial or garbled quotations from the Old Testament. After all, as Spence said, "Both these quotations go much farther and far deeper than the places cited in the Old Testament."(F28) For example, there are strong connections in the first of these with John 14:27-29.

Again the Pauline theology of righteous living appears in the second of these. In the last analysis, every man shall be judged on the basis of his deeds, whether they be good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Verse 20

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honor, and some unto dishonor.

See the comment under the preceding verse.

Vessels of gold … silver … wood … earth … The eternal mystery of why there should be vessels of dishonor in God’s church is perpetual. There was a Ham in the ark, an Esau in the womb of Rebekah, and a Judas among the Twelve. The thing in view here is that even the vessels of dishonor will serve the Father’s will in God’s own way; but that is a far different thing from the proposition that they will all be saved any way. Pharaoh was used for the glory of God, as were also Esau and Judas. Hervey was right in his view that:

Though everyone that names the Lord ought to depart from wickedness, yet we must not be surprised if it is not so, and if there are found in the church some professing Christians whose practice is quite inconsistent with their profession.(F29)

Verse 21

If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, meet for the master’s use, prepared unto every good work.

If a man purge himself from these … The way this stands it seems to say, "if one purge himself from the vessels unto dishonor," but that is evidently not the meaning.

The image is better maintained if we understand "from these" to mean the babblings, and ungodliness, and eating words of the heretics denounced.(F30)

Verse 22

But flee youthful lusts, and follow after righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Chrysostom’s comment on this was, "Every inordinate desire is a youthful lust. Let the aged learn that they ought not to do the deeds of the youthful."(F31) Sound as such a view surely is, it is extremely doubtful that Timothy, at the time of Paul’s writing, had reached an age when this advice was inappropriate.

Verse 23

But foolish and ignorant questionings refuse, knowing that they gender strifes.

Notice the great verbs directed toward the behavior of Timothy: "shun … purge … flee … refuse," indicating that avoidance is a vital tactic to be employed in a successful ministry. Lenski thought that Paul had in view here "Those people who busy themselves with all sorts of useless matters and then come to Timothy with their opinions with the hope of some support from him."(F32)

Verse 24

And the Lord’s servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing,

Here was given the antidote for the vain and conceited babblings with which some busied themselves, the same being a very noble and beautiful picture of the kind of personality that should be exhibited by God’s preachers. The physician or nurse does not respond to the illness of the patients with blows and threats, but with gentleness, forbearance and understanding.

Verses 25-26

in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves; if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will.

Those that oppose themselves … The essential foolishness of all sin and wrong-doing is implied in these words. Doing sinful things is actually opposing one’s self. In the parables, Jesus described the unprepared virgins, the man who built on the sand, and the one who proposed to pull down and build bigger barns as "foolish" ones; and the same principle shines here.

There is some doubt among scholars as to the correct rendition of the last verse, explained by Spence thus:

The words have been variously interpreted by commentators. The most satisfactory meaning 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 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 (God’s) will.(F33)

Despite the attraction that this rendition has for some, we shall stick to the ASV. Satan indeed takes captive (alive) the unfortunate souls who are entrapped in evil and thus become servants of the devil’s will. The true reality of Satan, his purpose, his existence and his means of operation are strongly evident here. The current theology which refuses to recognize Satan is blind and ignorant of the truth, which despite its denial is even today affirmed by the basic instincts of the human race. Everywhere, there is a widespread resurgence of interest in witchcraft, spiritualism, Satanism, the occult and horoscopes, etc. All of these trends are the logical result of dispensing with God and his holy word. As Ward commented:

Bereft of God in a materialistic environment, unsatisfied souls fumble with meaning beyond it in the supernatural; "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7 KJV).(F34)

Satan is still taking captive souls to do his will; and therefore let the church seize her opportunity to proclaim the gospel of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-timothy-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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