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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy 2

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-26

Chapter 2

THE CHAIN OF TEACHING ( 2 Timothy 2:1-2 )

2:1-2 As for you, my child, find your strength in the grace which is in Christ Jesus; and entrust the things which you have heard from me, and which are confirmed by many witnesses, to faithful men who will be competent to teach others too.

Here we have in outline two things--the reception and the transmission of the Christian faith.

(i) The reception of the faith is founded on two things. It is founded on hearing. It was from Paul that Timothy heard the truth of the Christian faith. But the words he heard were confirmed by the witness of many who were prepared to say: "These words are true--and I know it, because I have found it so in my own life." It may be that there are many of us who have not the gift of expression, and who can neither teach nor expound the Christian faith. But even he or she who has not the gift of teaching is able to witness to the living power of the gospel.

(ii) It is not only a privilege to receive the Christian faith; it is a duty to transmit it. Every Christian must look on himself as a link between two generations. E. K. Simpson writes on this passage: "The torch of heavenly light must be transmitted unquenched from one generation to another, and Timothy must count himself an intermediary between apostolic and later ages."

(iii) The faith is to be transmitted to faithful men who in their turn will teach it to others. The Christian Church is dependent on an unbroken chain of teachers. When Clement was writing to the Church at Corinth, he sketched that chain. "Our apostles appointed the aforesaid persons (that is, the elders) and afterwards they provided a continuance, that, if these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." The teacher is a link in the living chain which stretches unbroken from this present moment back to Jesus Christ.

These teachers are to be faithful men. The Greek for faithful, pistos ( G4103) , is a word with a rich variety of closely connected meanings. A man who is a pistos ( G4103) is a man who is believing, a man who is loyal, a man who is reliable. All these meanings are there. Falconer said that these believing men are such "that they will yield neither to persecution nor to error." The teacher's heart must be so stayed on Christ that no threat of danger will lure him from the path of loyalty and no seduction of false teaching cause him to stray from the straight path of the truth. He must be steadfast alike in life and in thought.

THE SOLDIER OF CHRIST ( 2 Timothy 2:3-4 )

2:3-4 Accept your share in suffering like a fine soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier who is on active service entangles himself in ordinary civilian business; he lays aside such things, so that by good service he may please the commander who has enrolled him in his army.

The picture of man as a soldier and life as a campaign is one which the Romans and the Greeks knew well. "To live," said Seneca, "is to be a soldier" (Seneca: Epistles 96: 5). "The life of every man," said Epictetus, "is a kind of campaign, and a campaign which is long and varied" (Epictetus: Discourses, 3, 24, 34). Paul took this picture and applied it to all Christians, but specially to the leaders and outstanding servants of the Church. He urges Timothy to fight a fine campaign ( 1 Timothy 1:18). He calls Archippus, in whose house a Church met, our fellow soldier ( Philemon 1:2). He calls Epaphroditus, the messenger of the Philippian Church, "my fellow soldier", ( Php_2:25 ). Clearly Paul saw in the life of the soldier a picture of the life of the Christian. What then were the qualities of the soldier which Paul would have repeated in the Christian life?

(i) The soldier's service must be a concentrated service. Once a man has enlisted on a campaign he can no longer involve himself in the ordinary daily business of life and living; he must concentrate on his service as a soldier. The Roman code of Theodosius said: "We forbid men engaged on military service to engage in civilian occupations." A soldier is a soldier and nothing else; the Christian must concentrate on his Christianity. That does not mean that he must engage on no worldly task or business. He must still live in this world, and he must still make a living; but it does mean that he must use whatever task he is engaged upon to demonstrate his Christianity.

(ii) The soldier is conditioned to obedience. The early training of a soldier is designed to make him unquestioningly obey the word of command. There may come a time when such instinctive obedience will save his life and the lives of others. There is a sense in which it is no part of the soldier's duty "to know the reason why." Involved as he is in the midst of the battle, he cannot see the over-all picture. The decisions he must leave to the commander who sees the whole field. The first Christian duty is obedience to the voice of God, and acceptance even of that which he cannot understand.

(iii) The soldier is conditioned to sacrifice. A. J. Gossip tells how, as a chaplain in the 1914-18 war, he was going up the line for the first time. War and blood, and wounds and death were new to him. On his way he saw by the roadside, left behind after the battle, the body of a young kilted Highlander. Oddly, perhaps, there flashed into his mind the words of Christ: "This is my body broken for you." The Christian must ever be ready to sacrifice himself, his wishes and his fortune, for God and for his fellow-men.

(iv) The soldier is conditioned to loyalty. When the Roman soldier joined the army he took the sacramentum, the oath of loyalty to his emperor. Someone records a conversation between Marshal Foch and an officer in the 1914-18 war. "You must not retire," said Foch, "you must hold on at all costs." "Then," said the officer aghast, "that means we must all die." And Foch answered: "Precisely!" The soldier's supreme virtue is that he is faithful unto death. The Christian too must be loyal to Jesus Christ, through all the chances and the changes of life, down even to the gates of death.

THE ATHLETE OF CHRIST ( 2 Timothy 2:5 )

2:5 And if anyone engages in an athletic contest, he does not win the crown unless he observes the rules of the game.

Paul has just used the picture of the soldier to represent the Christian, and now he uses two other pictures--those of the athlete and of the toiling husbandman. He uses the same three pictures close together in 1 Corinthians 9:6-7; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Paul says that the athlete does not win the crown of victory unless he observes the rules of the contest. There is a very interesting point in the Greek here which is difficult to bring out in translation. The King James Version speaks of striving lawfully. The Greek is athlein ( G118) nomimos ( G3545) . In fact that is the Greek phrase which was used by the later writers to describe a professional as opposed to an amateur athlete. The man who strove nomimos ( G3545) was the man who concentrated everything on his struggle. His struggle was not just a spare-time thing, as it might be for an amateur; it was a whole-time dedication of his life to excellence in the contest which he had chosen. Here then we have the same idea as in Paul's picture of the Christian as a soldier. A Christian's life must be concentrated upon his Christianity just as a professional athlete's life is concentrated upon his chosen contest. The spare-time Christian is a contradiction in terms; a man's whole life should be an endeavor to live out his Christianity. What then are the characteristics of the athlete which are in Paul's mind?

(i) The athlete is a man under discipline and self-denial. He must keep to his schedule of training and let nothing interfere with it. There will be days when he would like to drop his training and relax his discipline; but he must not do so. There will be pleasures and indulgences he would like to allow himself; but he must refuse them. The athlete who would excel knows that he must let nothing interfere with that standard of physical fitness which he has set himself. There must be discipline in the Christian life. There are times when the easy way is very attractive; there are times when the right thing is the hard thing; there are times when we are tempted to relax our standards. The Christian must train himself never to relax in the life-long attempt to make his soul pure and strong.

(ii) The athlete is a man who observes the rules. After the discipline and the rules of the training, there come the contest and the rules of the contest. An athlete cannot win unless he plays the game. The Christian, too, is often brought into contest with his fellow-men. He must defend his faith; he must seek to convince and to persuade; he will have to argue and to debate. He must do so by the Christian rules. No matter how hot the argument, he must never forget his courtesy. He must never be anything else but honest about his own position and fair to that of his opponent. The odium theologicum, the hatred of theologians, has become a byword. There is often no bitterness like religious bitterness. But the real Christian knows that the supreme rule of the Christian life is love, and he will carry that love into every debate in which he is engaged.

THE TOILER OF CHRIST ( 2 Timothy 2:6-7 )

2:6-7 It is the toiling husbandman who must be first to receive his share of the fruits. Think of what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.

To represent the Christian life Paul has used the picture of the soldier and of the athlete, and now he uses the picture of the farmer. It is not the lazy husbandman, but the husbandman who toils, who must be the first to receive the share of the fruits of the harvest. What then are the characteristics of the husbandman which Paul would wish to see in the life of the Christian?

(i) Often the husbandman must be content, first, to work, and, then, to wait. More than any other workman, he has to learn that there are no such things as quick results. The Christian too must learn to work and to wait. Often he must sow the good seed of the word into the hearts and minds of his hearers and see no immediate result. A teacher has often to teach, and see no difference in those he teaches. A parent has often to seek to train and guide, and see no difference in the child. It is only when the years go by that the result is seen; for it often happens that when that same young person has grown to manhood, he or she is faced with some overmastering temptation or some terrible decision or some intolerable effort, and back into his mind comes some word of God or some flash of remembered teaching; and the teaching, the guidance, the discipline bears fruit, and brings honour where without it there would have been dishonour, salvation where without it there would have been ruin. The farmer has teamed to wait with patience, and so must the Christian teacher and the Christian parent.

(ii) One special thing characterizes the husbandman--he must be prepared to work at any hour. In harvest time we can see farmers at work in their fields so long as the last streak of light is left; they know no hours. Neither must the Christian. The trouble with so much Christianity is that it is spasmodic. But from dawn to sunset the Christian must be for ever at his task of being a Christian.

One thing remains in all three pictures. The soldier is upheld by the thought of final victory. The athlete is upheld by the vision of the crown. The husbandman is upheld by the hope of the harvest. Each submits to the discipline and the toil for the sake of the glory which shall be. It is so with the Christian. The Christian struggle is not without a goal; it is always going somewhere. The Christian can be certain that after the effort of the Christian life, there comes the joy of heaven; and the greater the struggle, the greater the joy.

THE ESSENTIAL MEMORY ( 2 Timothy 2:8-10 )

2:8-10 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, born of the seed of David, as I preached the gospel to you; that gospel for which I suffer, even to the length of fetters, on the charge of being a criminal. But though I am fettered, the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of God's chosen ones, that they too may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

Right from the beginning of this letter Paul has been trying to inspire Timothy to his task. He has reminded him of his own belief in him and of the godly parentage from which he has come; he has shown him the picture of the Christian soldier, the Christian athlete and the Christian toiler. And now he comes to the greatest appeal of all--Remember Jesus Christ. Falconer calls these words: "The heart of the Pauline gospel." Even if every other appeal to Timothy's gallantry should fail, surely the memory of Jesus Christ cannot. In the words which follow, Paul is really urging Timothy to remember three things.

(i) Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead. The tense of the Greek does not imply one definite act in time, but a continued state which lasts for ever. Paul is not so much saying to Timothy: "Remember the actual resurrection of Jesus"; but rather: "Remember your risen and ever-present Lord." Here is the great Christian inspiration. We do not depend on a memory, however great. We enjoy the power of a presence. When a Christian is summoned to a great task that he cannot but feel is beyond him, he must go to it in the certainty that he does not go alone, but that there is with him for ever the presence and the power of his risen Lord. When fears threaten, when doubts assail, when inadequacy depresses, remember the presence of the risen Lord.

(ii) Remember Jesus Christ born of the seed of David. This is the other side of the question. "Remember," says Paul to Timothy, "the manhood of the Master." We do not remember one who is only a spiritual presence; we remember one who trod this road, and lived this life, and faced this struggle, and who therefore knows what we are going through. We have with us the presence not only of the glorified Christ, but also of the Christ who knew the desperate struggle of being a man and followed to the bitter end the will of God.

(iii) Remember the gospel, the good news. Even when the gospel demands much, even when it leads to an effort which seems to be beyond human ability and to a future which seems dark with every kind of threat, remember that it is good news, and remember that the world is waiting for it. However hard the task the gospel offers, that same gospel is the message of liberation from sin and victory over circumstances for us and for all mankind.

So Paul kindles Timothy to heroism by calling upon him to remember Jesus Christ, to remember the continual presence of the risen Lord, to remember the sympathy which comes from the manhood of the Master, to remember the glory of the gospel for himself and for the world which has never heard it and is waiting for it.

THE CRIMINAL OF CHRIST ( 2 Timothy 2:8-10 continued)

When Paul wrote these words he was in a Roman prison, bound by a chain. This was literally true, for all the time he was in prison night and day he would be chained to the arm of a Roman soldier. Rome took no risks that her prisoners should escape.

Paul was in prison on the charge of being a criminal. It seems strange that even a hostile government should be able to regard a Christian, and especially Paul, as a criminal. There were two possible ways in which Paul might appear a criminal to the Roman government.

First, Rome had an empire which was almost coextensive with the then known world. It was obvious that such an empire was subject to stresses and to strains. The peace had to be kept and every possible centre of disaffection had to be eliminated. One of the things about which Rome was very particular was the formation of associations. In the ancient world there were many associations. There were, for instance, dinner clubs who met at stated intervals. There were what we would call friendly societies designed for charity for the dependents of members who had died. There were burial societies to see that their members were decently buried. But so particular were the Roman authorities about associations that even these humble and harmless societies had to receive special permission from the emperor before they were allowed to meet. Now the Christians were in effect an illegal association; and that is one reason why Paul, as a leader of such an association, might well be in the very serious position of being a political criminal.

Second, the first persecution of the Christians was intimately connected with one of the greatest disasters which ever befell the city of Rome. On 19 July A.D. 64 the great fire broke out. It burned for six days and seven nights and devastated the city. The most sacred shrines and the most famous buildings perished in the flames. But worse--the homes of the common people were destroyed. By far the greater part of the population lived in great tenements built largely of wood and they went up like tinder. People were killed and injured; they lost their nearest and dearest; they were left homeless and destitute. The population of Rome was reduced to what someone has called "a vast brotherhood of hopeless wretchedness."

It was believed that Nero, the emperor, himself was responsible for the fire. It was said that he had watched the fire from the Tower of Maecenas and declared himself charmed with "the flower and loveliness of the flames." It was said that when the fire showed signs of dying down men were seen rekindling it with burning brands, and that these men were the servants of Nero. Nero had a passion for building, and it was said that he had deliberately fired the city so that from the ruins he might build a new and nobler Rome. Whether the story was true or not--the chances are that it was--one thing was certain. Nothing would kill the rumor. The destitute citizens of Rome were sure that Nero had been responsible.

There was only one thing for the Roman government to do; they must find a scapegoat. And a scapegoat was found. Let Tacitus, the Roman historian, tell how it was done: "But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiation's of the gods did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace" (Tacitus: Annals, 15: 44). Obviously slanders were already circulating regarding the Christians. No doubt the influential Jews were responsible. And the hated Christians were saddled with the blame for the disastrous fire of Rome. It was from that event that the first great persecution sprang. Paul was a Christian. More, he was the great leader of the Christians. And it may well be that part of the charge against Paul was that he was one of those responsible for the fire of Rome and the resulting misery of the populace.

So, then, Paul was in prison as a criminal, a political prisoner, member of an illegal association and leader of that hated sect of incendiaries, on whom Nero had fastened the blame for the destruction of Rome. It can easily be seen how helpless Paul was in face of charges like that.

FREE YET IN FETTERS BOUND ( 2 Timothy 2:8-10 continued)

Even though he was in prison on charges which made release impossible, Paul was not dismayed and was very far from despair. He had two great uplifting thoughts.

(i) He was certain that, though he might be bound, nothing could bind the word of God. Andrew Melville was one of the earliest heralds of the Scottish Reformation. One day the Regent Morton sent for him and denounced his writings. "There will never be quietness in this country," he said, "till half a dozen of you be hanged or banished the country." "Tush! sir," answered Melville, "threaten your courtiers in that fashion. It is the same to me whether I rot in the air or in the ground. The earth is the Lord's; my fatherland is wherever well-doing is. I have been ready to give my life when it was not half as well worn, at the pleasure of my God. I lived out of your country ten years as well as in it. Yet God be glorified, it will not lie in your power to hang nor exile his truth!"

You can exile a man, but you cannot exile the truth. You can imprison a preacher, but you cannot imprison the word he preaches. The message is always greater than the man; the truth is always mightier than the bearer. Paul was quite certain that the Roman government could never find a prison which could contain the word of God. And it is one of the facts of history that if human effort could have obliterated Christianity, it would have perished long ago; but men cannot kill that which is immortal.

(ii) Paul was certain that what he was going through would in the end be a help to other people. His suffering was not pointless and profitless. The blood of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church; and the lighting of the pyre where Christians were burned has always been the lighting of a fire which could never be put out. When anyone has to suffer for his Christianity, let him remember that his suffering makes the road easier for someone else who is still to come. In suffering we bear our own small portion of the weight of the Cross of Christ and do our own small part in the bringing of God's salvation to men.

THE SONG OF THE MARTYR ( 2 Timothy 2:11-13 )

2:11-13 This is a saying which can be relied upon:

If we die with him, we shall also live with him. If we endure, we shall also reign with him. If we deny him, he too will deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful For he cannot deny himself

This is a peculiarly precious passage because in it is enshrined one of the first hymns of the Christian Church. In the days of persecution the Christian Church put its faith into song. It may be that this is only a fragment of a longer hymn. Polycarp (5: 2) seems to give us a little more of it, when he writes: "If we please Christ in the present world, we shall inherit the world to come; as he has promised to raise us from the dead, and has said:

'If we walk worthily of him,

So shall we reign with him'."

There are two possible interpretations of the first two lines--"If we die with him, we shall also live with him." There are those who wish to take these lines as a reference to baptism. In Romans 6:1-23 baptism is likened to dying and rising with Christ. "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." "But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" ( Romans 6:4; Romans 6:8). No doubt the language is the same; but the thought of baptism is quite irrelevant here; it is the thought of martyrdom that is in Paul's mind. Luther, in a great phrase, said: "Ecclesia haeres crucis est," "The Church is the heir of the Cross." The Christian inherits Christ's Cross, but he also inherits Christ's Resurrection. He is partner both in the shame and in the glory of his Lord.

The hymn goes on: "If we endure, we shall also reign with him." It is he who endures to the end who will be saved. Without the Cross there cannot be the Crown.

Then comes the other side of the matter: "If we deny him, he too will deny us." That is what Jesus himself said: "So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" ( Matthew 10:32-33). Jesus Christ cannot vouch in eternity for a man who has refused to have anything to do with him in time; but he is for ever true to the man who, however much he has failed, has tried to be true to him.

These things are so because they are part of the very nature of God. A man may deny himself, but God cannot. "God is not man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should repent" ( Numbers 23:19). God will never fail the man who has tried to be true to him, but not even he can help the man who has refused to have anything to do with him.

Long ago Tertullian said: "The man who is afraid to suffer cannot belong to him who suffered" (Tertullian: De Fuga, 14). Jesus died to be true to the will of God; and the Christian must follow that same will, whatever light may shine or shadow fall.

THE DANGER OF WORDS ( 2 Timothy 2:14 )

2:14 Remind your people of these things; and charge them before the Lord not to engage in battles of words--a thing of no use at all, and a thing which can only result in the undoing of those who listen to it.

Once again Paul returns to the inadequacy of words. We must remember that the Pastoral Epistles were written against a background of those Gnostics who produced their long words and their fantastic theories, and tried to make Christianity into a recondite philosophy instead of an adventure of faith.

There is both fascination and peril in words. They can become a substitute for deeds. There are people who are more concerned to talk than to act. If the world's problems could have been solved by discussion, they would have been solved long ago. But words cannot replace deeds. As Charles Kingsley wrote in A Farewell:

"Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;

Do noble things, not dream them, all day long."

As Philip James Bailey wrote in Festus:

"We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives

Who thinks most--feels the noblest--acts the best."

Dr. Johnson was one of the great talkers of all time; John Wesley was one of the great men of action of all time. They knew each other, and Johnson had only one complaint about Wesley: "John Wesley's conversation is good, but he is never at leisure. He is always obliged to go at a certain hour. This is very disagreeable to a man who loves to fold his legs and have his talk out, as I do." But the fact remains that Wesley, the man of action, wrote his name across England in a way in which Johnson, the man of talk, never did.

It is not even true that talk and discussion fully solve intellectual problems. One of the most suggestive things Jesus ever said was: "If any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God" ( John 7:17). Often understanding comes not by talking, but by doing. In the old Latin phrase, solvitur ambulando, the thing will solve itself as you go on. It often happens that the best way to understand the deep things of Christianity is to embark on the unmistakable duties of the Christian life.

There remains one further thing to be said. Too much talk and too much discussion can have two dangerous effects.

First, they may give the impression that Christianity is nothing but a collection of questions for discussion and problems for solution. The discussion circle is a characteristic phenomenon of this age. As G. K. Chesterton once said: "We have asked all the questions which can be asked. It is time we stopped looking for questions, and started looking for answers." In any society the discussion circle must be balanced by the action group.

Second, discussion can be invigorating for those whose approach to the Christian faith is intellectual, for those who have a background of knowledge and of culture, for those who have a real knowledge of, or interest in, theology. But it sometimes happens that a simple-minded person finds himself in a group which is tossing heresies about and propounding unanswerable questions, and his faith, so far from being helped, is upset. It may well be that that is what Paul means when he says that wordy battles can undo those who listen to them. The normal word used for building a person up in the Christian faith, for edification, is the same as is used for literally building a house; the word which Paul uses here for ruin (katastrophe, G2692) is what might well be used for the demolition of a house. And it may well happen that clever, subtle, speculative, intellectually reckless discussion may have the effect of demolishing, and not building up, the faith of some simple person who happens to become involved in it. As in all things, there is a time to discuss and a time to be silent.


2:15-18 Put out every effort to present yourself to God as one who has stood the test, as a workman who has no need to be ashamed, as one who rightly handles the word of truth.

Avoid these godless chatterings, for the people who engage in them only progress further and further into ungodliness, and their talk eats its way into the Church like an ulcerous gangrene.

Amongst such people are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who, as far as the truth is concerned, have lost the way, when they say that the resurrection has already happened, and who by such statements are upsetting the faith of some.

Paul urges Timothy to present himself, amidst the false teachers, as a real teacher of the truth. The word he uses for "to present" is parastesai ( G3936) , which characteristically means to present oneself for service. The following words and phrases all develop this idea of usefulness for service.

The Greek for one who has stood the test is dokimos ( G1384) , which describes anything which has been tested and is fit for service. For instance, it describes gold or silver which has been purified of all alloy in the fire. It is therefore the word for money which is genuine, or, as we would say, sterling. It is the word used for a stone which is fit to be fitted into its place in a building. A stone with a flaw in it was marked with a capital A, standing for adokimastos (compare 0096), which means tested and found wanting. Timothy was to be tested that he might be a fit weapon for the work of Christ, and therefore a workman who had no need to be ashamed.

Further, Timothy is urged in a famous phrase rightly to divide the word of truth. The Greek word translated to divide rightly is interesting. It is orthotomein ( G3718) , which literally means to cut rightly. It has many pictures in it. Calvin connected it with a father dividing out the food at a meal and cutting it up so that each member of the family received the right portion. Beza connected it with the cutting up of sacrificial victims so that each part was correctly apportioned to the altar or to the priest. The Greeks themselves used the word in three different connections. They used it for driving a straight road across country, for ploughing a straight furrow across a field, and for the work of a mason in cutting and squaring a stone so that it fitted into its correct place in the structure of the building. So the man who rightly divides the word of truth, drives a straight road through the truth and refuses to be lured down pleasant but irrelevant by-paths; he ploughs a straight furrow across the field of truth; he takes each section of the truth, and fits it into its correct position, as a mason does a stone, allowing no part to usurp an undue place and so knock the whole structure out of balance.

On the other hand, the false teacher engages on what Paul would call "godless chatterings." Then Paul uses a vivid phrase. The Greeks had a favorite word for making progress (prokoptein, G4298) . It literally means to cut down in front; to remove the obstacles from a road so that straight and uninterrupted progress is possible. Paul says of these senseless talkers that they progress further and further into ungodliness. They progress in reverse. The more they talk, the farther they get from God. Here then is the test. If at the end of our talk, we are closer to one another and to God, then all is well; but if we have erected barriers between one another and have left God more distant, then all is not well. The aim of all Christian discussion and of all Christian action is to bring a man nearer to his fellows and to God.

THE LOST RESURRECTION ( 2 Timothy 2:15-18 continued)

Amongst the false teachers Paul numbers especially Hymenaeus and Philetus. Who these men were we do not know. But we get a brief glimpse of their teaching in at least one of its aspects. They said that the resurrection had already happened. This of course does not refer to the Resurrection of Jesus; it refers to the resurrection of the Christian after death. We do know two false views of the resurrection of the Christian which had some influence in the early Church.

(i) It was claimed that the real resurrection of the Christian took place at baptism. It is true that in Romans 6:1-23 Paul had written vividly about how the Christian dies in the moment of baptism and rises to life anew. There were those who taught that the resurrection happened in that moment of baptism and that it was resurrection to new life in Christ here and now, not after death.

(ii) There were those who taught that the meaning of individual resurrection was nothing more than that a man lived on in his children.

The trouble was that this kind of teaching found an echo in both the Jewish and the Greek side of the Church. On the Jewish side, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the body but the Sadducees did not. Any teaching which did away with the conception of life after death would appeal to the Sadducees; the trouble with the Pharisees was that they were wealthy materialists, who had so big a stake in this world that they were not interested in any world to come.

On the Greek side, the trouble was much greater. In the early days of Christianity, the Greeks, generally speaking, believed in immortality but not in the resurrection of the body. The highest belief was that of the Stoics. They believed that God was what might be called fiery spirit. The life in man was a spark of that spirit, a spark of God himself, a scintilla of deity. But they believed that when a man died that spark went back to God and was reabsorbed in him. That is a noble belief but it clearly abolishes personal survival after death. Further, the Greeks believed that the body was entirely evil. They had their play on words as a watchword: "Soma ( G4983) Sema (compare G4591) ," "The body is a tomb (marker)." The last thing they desired or believed in was the resurrection of the body; and therefore they, too, were open to receive any teaching about the resurrection which fitted their beliefs.

It is obvious that the Christian does not believe in the resurrection of this body. No one could conceive of someone smashed in an accident or dying of cancer reawakening in heaven with the same body. But the Christian does believe in the survival of personal identity; he believes most strenuously that after death you will still be you and I will still be I. Any teaching which removes that certainty of the personal survival of each individual man strikes at the very root of Christian belief.

When Hymenaeus and Philetus and their like taught that the resurrection had already happened, either at the moment of baptism or in a man's children, they were teaching something which Sadducean Jews and philosophic Greeks would be by no means averse to accepting; but they were also teaching something which undermined one of the central beliefs of the Christian faith.

THE FIRM FOUNDATION ( 2 Timothy 2:19 )

2:19 But the firm foundation of God stands fast with this inscription:

"The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness."

In English we use foundation in a double sense. We use it to mean the basis on which a building is erected; and also in the sense of an association, a college, a city which has been founded by someone. For instance, we talk about the foundation of a house; and we also say that King's College, Cambridge, is a foundation of Henry the Sixth. Greek used the word themelios ( G2310) in the same two ways; and the foundation of God here means the Church, the association which he has founded.

Paul goes on to say that the Church has a certain inscription on it. The word he uses is sphragis ( G4973) whose usual meaning is seal. The sphragis ( G4973) is the seal which proves genuineness or ownership. The seal on a sack of goods proved that the contents were genuine and had not been interfered with; and it also indicated the ownership and the source of the goods. But sphragis ( G4973) had other uses. It was used to denote the brandmark, what we would call the trademark. Galen, the Greek doctor, speaks of the sphragis ( G4973) on a certain phial of eye salve, meaning the mark which showed what brand of eye salve the phial contained. Still further, the sphragis ( G4973) was the architect's mark. Always on a monument or a statue or a building the architect put his mark, to show that he was responsible for its design. The sphragis ( G4973) can also be the inscription which indicates the purpose for which a building has been built.

The Church has a sphragis ( G4973) which shows at once what it is designed to be. The sign on the Church Paul gives in two quotations. But the way in which these two quotations are made is very illuminating in regard to the manner in which Paul and the early Church used scripture. The two quotations are: "The Lord knows those who are his," and "Let every one who names the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness." The interesting thing is that neither is a literal quotation from any part of scripture.

The first is a reminiscence of a saying of Moses to the rebellious friends and associates of Korah in the wilderness days. When they gathered themselves together against him, Moses said: "The Lord will show who is his" ( Numbers 16:5). But that Old Testament text was read in the light of the saying of Jesus in Matthew 7:22: "Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, I never knew you: depart from me you evil-doers." The Old Testament text is, as it were, retranslated into the words of Jesus.

The second is another reminiscence of the Korah story. It was Moses' command to the people: "Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs" ( Numbers 16:26). But that, too, is read in the light of the words of Jesus in Luke 13:27, where he says to those who falsely claim to be his followers: "Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity."

Two things emerge. The early Christians always read the Old Testament in the light of the words of Jesus; and they were not interested in verbal niceties, but to any problem they brought the general sense of the whole range of scripture. These are still excellent principles by which to read and use scripture.

The two texts give us two broad principles about the Church:

The first tells us that the Church consists of those who belong to God, who have given themselves to him in such a way that they no longer possess themselves and the world no longer possesses them, but God possesses them.

The second tells us that the Church consists of those who have departed from unrighteousness. That is not to say that it consists of perfect people. If that were so, there would be no Church. It has been said that the great interest of God is not so much in where a man has reached, as in the direction in which he is facing. And the Church consists of those whose faces are turned to righteousness. They may often fall and the goal may sometimes seem distressingly far away, but their faces are ever set in the right direction.

The Church consists of those who belong to God and have dedicated themselves to the struggle for righteousness.


2:20-21 In any great house there are not only gold and silver vessels; there are also vessels of wood and earthenware. And some are put to a noble use and some to an ignoble use. If anyone purifies himself from these things, he will be a vessel fit to be put to a noble use, ready for any good work.

The connection between this passage and the one which immediately precedes it is very practical. Paul had just given a great and high definition of the Church as consisting of those who belong to God and are on the way to righteousness. The obvious rejoinder is: How do you explain the existence of the chattering heretics in the Church? How do you explain the existence of Hymenaeus and Philetus? Paul's reply is that in any great house there are all kinds of utensils; there are things of precious metal and things of base metal; there are things which have a dishonourable use and things which have an honourable use. It must be so in the Church. So long as it is an earthly institution it must be a mixture. So long as it consists of men and women, it must remain a cross-section of humanity. Just as it takes all kinds of people to make a world, so it takes all kinds of people to make the Church.

That is a practical truth which Jesus had stated long before, in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares ( Matthew 13:24-30, Matthew 13:36-43). The point of that parable is that the wheat and the tares grow together, and, in the early stages, are so like each other that it is impossible to separate them. He stated it again in the Parable of the Drag-net ( Matthew 13:47-48). The drag-net gathered of every kind. In both parables Jesus teaches that the Church is necessarily a mixture and that human judgment must be suspended, but that God's judgment will in the end make the necessary separations.

Those who criticize the Church because there are imperfect people in it are criticizing it because it is composed of men and women. It is not given to us to judge; judgment belongs to God.

But it is the duty of a Christian to keep himself free from polluting influences. And if he does, his reward is not special honour and special privilege but special service.

Here is the very essence of the Christian faith. A really good man does not regard his goodness as entitling him to special honour; his one desire will be to have more and more work to do, for his work will be his greatest privilege. If he is good, the last thing he will do will be to seek to stand aloof from his fellow-men. He will rather seek to be among them, at their worst, serving God by serving them. His glory will not be in exemption from service; it will be in still more demanding service. No Christian should ever think of fitting himself for honour but always as fitting himself for service.

ADVICE TO A CHRISTIAN LEADER ( 2 Timothy 2:22-26 )

2:22-26 Flee from youthful passions; run in pursuit of righteousness in the company of those who call on the Lord from a clean conscience. Have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments, for you know that they only breed quarrels. The servant of the Lord must not fight, rather he must be kindly to all, apt to teach, forbearing, disciplining his opponents by gentleness. It may be that God will enable them to repent, so that they will come to know the truth, and so that they will escape from the snare of the devil, when they are captured alive by God's servant that they may do God's will.

Here is a passage of most practical advice for the Christian leader and teacher.

He must flee from youthful lusts. Many commentators have made suggestions as to what these youthful lusts are. They are far more than the passions of the flesh. They include that impatience, which has never learned to hasten slowly and has still to discover that too much hurry can do far more harm than good; that self-assertion, which is intolerant in its opinions and arrogant in its expression of them, and which has not yet learned to see the good in points of view other than its own; that love of disputation, which tends to argue long and act little, and which will talk the night away and be left with nothing but a litter of unsolved problems; that love of novelty, which tends to condemn a thing simply because it is old and to desire a thing simply because it is new, underrating the value of experience. One thing is to be noted--the faults of youth are the faults of idealism. It is simply the freshness and intensity of the vision which makes youth run into these mistakes. Such faults are matters not for austere condemnation but for sympathetic correction, for every one has a virtue hidden beneath it.

The Christian teacher and leader is to aim at righteousness, which means giving both to men and to God their due; at faith, which means loyalty and reliability which both come from trust in God; at love, which is the utter determination never to seek anything but the highest good of our fellow-men, no matter what they do to us, and which has for ever put away all bitterness and all desire for vengeance; at peace, which is the right relationship of loving fellowship with God and with men. And all these things are to be sought in the company of those who call upon the Lord. The Christian must never seek to live detached and aloof from his fellow-men. He must find his strength and his joy in the Christian fellowship. As John Wesley said: "A man must have friends or make friends; for no one ever went to heaven alone."

The Christian leader must not get involved in senseless controversies which are the curse of the Church. In the modern Church Christian arguments are usually doubly senseless, for they are seldom about great matters of life and doctrine and faith, but almost always about unimportant things like teacups and the like. Once a leader is involved in senseless and unchristian controversy, he has forfeited all right to lead.

The Christian leader must be kindly to all; even when he has to criticize and point out a fault, it must be done with the gentleness which never seeks to hurt. He must be apt to teach; he must not only know the truth, but also be able to communicate it, and he will do that, not so much by talking about it, as by living in such a way that he shows men Christ. He must be forbearing; like his Master, if he is reviled, he must not revile again; he must be able to accept insult and injury, slights and humiliations, as Jesus accepted them. There may be greater sins than touchiness, but there is none which does greater damage in the Christian Church. He must discipline his opponents in gentleness; his hand like the hand of a surgeon, unerring to find the diseased spot, yet never for a moment causing unnecessary pain. He must love men, not batter them, into submission to the truth.

The last sentence of this passage is in very involved Greek, but it seems to be a hope that God will awaken repentance and the desire for the truth in the hearts of men, so that those who are caught in the snare of the devil may be rescued while their souls are still alive and brought into obedience to the will of God by the work of his servant. It is God who awakes the repentance; it is the Christian leader who opens the door of the Church to the penitent heart.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 2". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/2-timothy-2.html. 1956-1959.
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