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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

2 Timothy 4

Verses 1-8

IV. DIRECTIONS CONCERNING THE LAST DAYS 3:1-4:8

Paul anticipated dark days ahead for the church. He listed several characteristics of this time, clarified the most important conduct in it, and explained his own role to prepare Timothy and all his readers for what lay ahead.

B. Conduct in the last days 3:14-4:5

Paul identified two of Timothy’s duties in the last days to impress him with what was of highest priority.

Verse 1

Paul wanted Timothy to proclaim the truth in his public ministry as well as to adhere to it in his personal life. He introduced the command in 2 Timothy 4:2 with a very solemn preamble in 2 Timothy 4:1 (cf. 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Timothy 6:13). He reminded Timothy that God was watching him, as was Jesus Christ who will judge all people. He further reminded him that Christ will return (at any time implied) and set up His kingdom. Timothy should prepare to meet Him by carrying out Paul’s command (cf. Mark 13:34-35).

Paul’s point was this. Jesus Christ will judge Christians at the judgment seat of Christ and then appear again at the Second Coming (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10) and set up His millennial kingdom on the earth. Consequently Timothy needed to herald the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:2) and faithfully carry out the ministry that God had given him (2 Timothy 4:5). [Note: See Kenneth S. Wuest, The Pastoral Epistles in the Greek New Testament, pp. 153, 159-60.]

"The [Roman] Emperor’s appearance in any place was his epiphaneia ["appearing"]. Obviously when the Emperor was due to visit any place, everything was put in perfect order. The streets were swept and garnished; all work was up-to-date. The town was scoured and decorated to be fit for the epiphaneia of the Emperor. So Paul says to Timothy: ’You know what happens when any town is expecting the epiphaneia of the Emperor; you are expecting the epiphaneia of Jesus Christ. Do your work in such a way that all things will be ready whenever He appears.’" [Note: William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p. 233.]

Verses 1-5

2. Proclamation of the truth 4:1-5

Verse 2

Herald the Word of God! That is the primary responsibility of every leader of God’s people (cf. 2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Timothy 6:20).

"kerysso ["preach"] is the verbal cognate of kerych, the ’herald’ whose duty it was to make public proclamation. The verb thus means ’proclaim aloud, publicly’ and is used in the NT of public proclamation or ’preaching’ of the message that God has given . . ." [Note: Knight, p. 453. Cf. 1 Timothy 3:16.]

We must preach the Word in season and out of season (continually, always, when convenient or inconvenient, not just during special periods of emphasis). Paul already explained the reason for this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Timothy was to use the Word of God to reprove (convict) those in error (an appeal to the emotions). He was to use it to rebuke those in sin (an appeal to the mind). He was also to use it to encourage those living in harmony with God’s will (an appeal to the will). He was to carry on all of these activities-conviction, warning, and appeal-very patiently and with careful instruction (cf. 2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Timothy 3:10; 1 Timothy 1:16). There are five imperatives in this verse: preach, be ready, reprove, rebuke, and exhort.

"Christian reproof without the grace of long-suffering has often led to a harsh, censorious attitude intensely harmful to the cause of Christ. But the other requirement is equally essential, for correction must be intelligently understood and hence based on ’teaching’. To rebuke without instruction is to leave the root cause of error untouched." [Note: Guthrie, pp. 166-67.]

"Christian ministry centers on the Word of God, God’s own expression of his will for people whom he desires to bless. If God had not spoken, we would not have known about him. Since it is through his Word that he continues to speak with his people, ministry first and foremost must be the communication of his Word." [Note: Towner, 1-2 Timothy . . ., p. 204.]

Verses 3-4

Paul explained the reason for this charge next. "They" are the people to whom Timothy and his followers would preach: his listeners. In the end time they would not tolerate the truth but would only listen to speakers who told them what they wanted to hear (false doctrine, entertainment, etc.; cf. 2 Timothy 3:6). Paul pictured people who would be bored by, apathetic to, and annoyed by sound doctrine.

"In other words, they have made themselves the measure of who should teach them and what teaching is acceptable." [Note: Knight, p. 455.]

Moreover they would choose to believe myths rather than the truth (e.g., atheistic evolution, humanism, reincarnation, etc.; cf. 1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 4:7; Titus 1:14). The context seems to indicate that these people were believers (cf. Luke 8:13; 1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 3:12; 2 Timothy 2:12). Earle believed the phrase "sound doctrine" is the key one in the Pastorals (cf. 1 Timothy 1:10). [Note: Earle, "2 Timothy," p. 411.]

"Timothy’s major responsibility in Ephesus was to defend and proclaim sound doctrine." [Note: Ibid.]

Verse 5

In view of this increasing opposition Timothy needed to keep alert (cool-headed, "wide awake" [Note: E.K. Simpson, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 154.] ) by avoiding false teaching. To do this he needed to maintain self-control under all circumstances. [Note: Earle, "2 Timothy," p. 411.] He needed to endure hardship willingly and to continue proclaiming the gospel to the lost. He would thereby carry out the ministry God had entrusted to him completely. Four more imperatives appear in this verse (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2): be, endure, do, and fulfill.

"Thus with the words of the solemn charge in 2 Timothy 4:1-5 Paul in effect brings to a conclusion his words of instruction regarding Timothy’s duties as a minister of Christ. This charge gathers up the concerns expressed throughout the letter and crystallizes them in nine memorable imperatives that begin with ’preach the word’ and end with ’fulfill your ministry.’ With these imperatives Paul calls on Timothy to proclaim and apply God’s word with much patience and careful instruction, to be clearheaded in every situation, to bear whatever difficulties such a ministry may involve him in, to evangelize, and to do whatever is necessary to accomplish the ministry to which Christ has called him." [Note: Knight, p. 458.]

Job or Ministry? [Note: Anonymous.]
A job is one you choose;
A ministry is one Christ chooses for you.
A job depends on your abilities;
A ministry depends on your availability to God.
In a job you expect to receive;
In a ministry you expect to give.
A job done well brings you self-esteem;
A ministry done well brings honor to Jesus Christ.
In a job you give something to get something;
In a ministry you return something that has already been given to you.
A job well done has temporal remuneration;
A ministry well done brings eternal rewards.

Verse 6

Paul believed that he would die very soon. He used two euphemistic expressions to describe his death. First, his life was presently being "poured out" as a sacrifice to God, like the daily drink offerings in Judaism (Numbers 15:1-10; cf. Numbers 28:4-7; Philippians 2:17). Soon there would be nothing left. After the Jewish priest offered the lamb, ram, or bull in this ritual, he poured wine beside the altar. This was the last act in the sacrificial ceremony all of which symbolized the dedication of the believer to God in worship. The pouring out of the wine pictured the gradual ebbing away of Paul’s life that had been a living sacrifice to God since the apostle’s conversion. [Note: Hendriksen, p. 313.]

Second, Paul was getting ready to depart this earth as a traveler leaves one country for another or as a soldier breaks camp. The apostle believed that Nero would not release him from prison but would execute him. Christian tradition confirms that Paul died as a martyr in Rome. [Note: See Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1:329-33.] The impending death of Paul lent added urgency to his charge to Timothy.

Verses 6-8

C. Paul’s role in the last days 4:6-8

Paul revealed that he was about to die to impress on Timothy further the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord.

Verse 7

Paul used three more figures to describe his life as he reviewed it. The first two are athletic metaphors (cf. 2 Timothy 2:5) describing a boxer or wrestler and a runner (cf. Acts 20:24). The third is that of a faithful steward who has kept (guarded) his charge (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:2; Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). Another view is that the first figure is military, the second athletic, and the third religious. [Note: Simpson, p. 159.] A third view is that all three figures are athletic. [Note: Earle, "2 Timothy," pp. 412-13.] Paul had lived the Christian life and served the Lord as He had commanded. 2 Timothy 4:6-7 constitute Paul’s epitaph.

Paul probably meant that he had run in the noblest race of all, namely, the ministry of the gospel, not that he had done his best in the contest. [Note: Fee, p. 289; Lea, p. 248.]

Verse 8

Because he had been faithful, Paul did not dread dying but looked forward to seeing His Lord. On the day of rewards for Christians (the judgment seat of Christ; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:18; 2 Corinthians 5:10) Paul was confident that the Lord would give him a reward that was proper.

The "crown of righteousness" may be either the fullness of righteousness as a reward or some unspecified reward for righteous conduct on earth (cf. James 1:12; Revelation 2:10). This seems to be a metaphorical crown (i.e., a reward) rather than a literal material crown since righteousness is non-material. This reward (victor’s crown, Gr. stephanos) will go to all Christians like Paul who, by the way they lived, demonstrated a longing for the Lord’s return. Not all Christians are anxious for the Lord to return since some know they need to change their way of living.

Believers’ Crowns
TitleReasonReference
An Imperishable CrownFor leading a disciplined life1 Corinthians 9:25
A Crown of RejoicingFor evangelism and discipleship1 Thessalonians 2:19
A Crown of RighteousnessFor loving the Lord’s appearing2 Timothy 4:8
A Crown of LifeFor enduring trialsJames 1:12;
Revelation 2:10
A Crown of GloryFor shepherding God’s flock faithfully1 Peter 5:4

Clearly Paul was thinking of the judgment seat of Christ in 2 Timothy 4:1-8. He referred to his Judge in 2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:8. Note that it will be the righteous Judge who will bestow the crown of righteousness.

"An expectation of reward is also a recognition of God’s grace. Those who anticipate reward will not be able to boast, ’Look at my accomplishments.’ They should be able to offer praise to God by saying, ’Thank you, Lord, for what you have produced in me.’ The very expectation of reward is an acknowledgment of God’s grace." [Note: Ibid., p. 249. See also Joe L. Wall, Going for the Gold, pp. 125-28, 131-39.]

Verses 9-10

Paul urged Timothy to join him in Rome soon. He did not expect to live much longer (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6).

"The constitutional method of inflicting capital punishment on a Roman citizen was by the lictor’s axe. The criminal was tied to a stake; cruelly scourged with the rods, and then beheaded." [Note: W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, p. 781, footnote 4.]

Demas, a short form of Demetrius (cf. 3 John 1:12, probably not the same man), Paul’s fellow worker, had succumbed to the allurements of the world (instead of loving Christ’s appearing; cf. Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:21; 1 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:12; 1 John 2:15). He had departed from Paul and had gone to live in Thessalonica (cf. Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). He, like Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17), Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20), and others had not continued to follow Christ faithfully.

"He was not willing to pay the price of hardship and suffering that Paul was paying." [Note: Earle, "2 Timothy," p. 414.]

Crescens had gone to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia (i.e., Illyricum, modern Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) presumably in the Lord’s service.

"Tradition says that he [Crescens] went north from Rome into Gaul, founded the churches in Vienne [sic] and Mayence near Lyons . . ., and became the bishop of Chalcedon . . ." [Note: Mounce, p. 590.]

Verses 9-15

A. Fellow workers and an opponent 4:9-15

Verses 9-22

V. CONCLUDING PERSONAL INSTRUCTIONS AND INFORMATION 4:9-22

Paul concluded his last inspired epistle by giving Timothy personal instructions and information to enable him to carry out the apostle’s last wishes.

Verses 11-13

Luke was Paul’s only companion, perhaps among his inner circle of co-laborers or day to day. Timothy was to pick up Mark (Acts 15:36-40) and bring him with him because Paul believed Mark could be useful to him (cf. Philemon 1:11). Mark had, of course, previously left Paul and Barnabas in Perga and had returned to Jerusalem for unexplained reasons (Acts 13:13). Tychicus had gone to Ephesus, or was about to go, if the aorist apesteila ("I sent") is epistolary, perhaps to relieve Timothy there (Acts 20:4; Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-9). Timothy should also bring Paul a certain cloak, perhaps for his comfort as colder weather set in (2 Timothy 4:21). Paul also asked him to bring certain unidentified books and especially "the parchments." The parchments may have been copies of Old Testament books and or inspired New Testament writings, and or Paul’s legal papers.

"Even as an old man facing certain death, the apostle has not lost his interest for study and mental pursuits. It presents a standing challenge to the minister to be an indefatigable student, especially of the Word of God." [Note: Hiebert, Second Timothy, p. 120.]

"There is an interesting historical parallel to Paul’s request. William Tyndale, who translated the first NT printed in English, was imprisoned in Vilvorde Castle near Brussels before his execution in 1536. In the year preceding his death he wrote to the governor, begging for warmer clothing, a woolen shirt, and above all his Hebrew Bible, grammar, and dictionary." [Note: Earle, "2 Timothy," p. 415.]

Verses 14-15

The Alexander Paul warned Timothy about may have been the same man he mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20 (cf. Acts 19:33-34), though Alexander was a common name. Paul did not want Timothy to retaliate against him. The Lord would take care of that (Psalms 62:12). Timothy should simply beware of him.

Verse 16

Customarily under Roman law accused prisoners underwent a preliminary hearing before their trial. At this hearing, witnesses could speak on behalf of the accused. In Paul’s case no one had come to his defense. This was probably because when Rome burned in July of A.D. 64 Nero blamed the Christians, and from then on it was dangerous to be a known Christian in Rome. Neither local Christians nor Paul’s fellow workers were willing to stand with the apostle (cf. Matthew 26:56). Paul hoped the Lord would not hold their failure against them (cf. Psalms 32:2; Luke 23:34).

Verses 16-18

B. Paul’s preliminary hearing in court 4:16-18

Verse 17

The Lord, however, had not abandoned His faithful servant on that occasion but had strengthened Paul. Evidently Paul was able to give a word of witness at his hearing that furthered his mission to the Gentiles. He had so far escaped death, though he was ready to die as a martyr. The "lion’s mouth" may be a reference to the lions in the Roman Coliseum that were then devouring Christians. However the Romans would have beheaded Paul rather than thrown him to the lions since he was a Roman citizen. This phrase may be a veiled reference to Nero or probably a more general allusion to Satan’s instruments of evil that have always sought to destroy God’s faithful servants (cf. Daniel 6:22; Psalms 22:21; Matthew 6:13; 1 Peter 5:8).

Verse 18

Paul knew he would die a martyr’s death (2 Timothy 4:6-8), but he saw death as God’s vehicle to deliver him from an evil deed (his execution) and to bring him into his Lord’s presence. For this prospect he glorified God.

Thoughts of the coming heavenly kingdom that Paul was about to enter lay behind all he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:1-18. He referred to Christ’s kingdom in 2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:18 specifically. I believe Paul was speaking of Christ’s rule in which all Christians will participate when we enter His presence, part of which will include His millennial reign on the earth.

"Three features of Paul’s attitude can provide us help and encouragement for today. First, Paul avoided indulging his disappointments. . . . Second, Paul could rejoice in the victory won in the life of Mark. . . . Third, Paul found no room for vindictiveness toward those who hurt or opposed him." [Note: Lea, p. 257.]

Verse 19

Paul sent greetings to his old friends Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila who then lived in Ephesus (cf. Acts 18:2; Acts 18:18; Acts 18:26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19). He also greeted the loyal family of Onesiphorus of whom he had written earlier (2 Timothy 1:16).

Verses 19-21

C. Additional greetings and instructions 4:19-21

Verse 20

Erastus and Trophimus were old associates of Timothy (Acts 19:22; Acts 20:4; Acts 21:29). Paul sent news of them. Some authorities believe that Paul’s ability to heal people physically had ended. Many of them believe that God gave the gift of healing to the church only in its infancy to help authenticate the apostles as they ministered to the Jews (Ephesians 2:20; Hebrews 2:3-4). [Note: See Gary W. Derickson, "The Decline of Miracles in the New Testament Era," Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1986; idem, "The Cessation of Healing Miracles in Paul’s Ministry," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:619 (July-September 1998):299-315.] A better explanation, I think, is that, though the gift of healing did decline, Jesus’ and the apostles’ ability to heal always depended on the sovereign will of God (Luke 5:17; Acts 3:12-13). Evidently it was not God’s will for Trophimus to experience miraculous healing then (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

Verse 21

Winter severely restricted travel in some parts of the Roman world. Timothy needed to leave Ephesus soon so he could reach Rome without undue difficulty. Paul relayed the greetings of four other brethren, probably local, who Timothy evidently knew, as well as the greetings of all the local Christians.

"Linus is mentioned by Irenaeus (Against Heresies, iii.3) as the first bishop of Rome after the death of Peter and Paul." [Note: Earle, "2 Timothy," pp. 417-18.]

Verse 22

D. Benediction 4:22

In conclusion, Paul first wished the Lord’s ministry of grace on Timothy’s spirit, perhaps to encourage him to remain faithful. Then he wished God’s grace for all the readers (plural "you" in the Greek text) of this epistle.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-timothy-4.html. 2012.