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Monday, July 15th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy 2

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Verses 1-26

3 The Path of the Godly in a Day of Ruin

( 2 Timothy 2 )

The believer, instructed in the mind of God, cannot but admit that what passes for the church of God before men has no resemblance to the church of God as presented in Scripture. This grave departure from the Word of God clearly shows that God's intention for the church, during its sojourn in a world from which Christ is absent, has been ruined in the hands of man. Few, indeed, would deny that we live in a day of ruin. It is, however, of the first importance to understand clearly what we mean when we speak of the ruin of the church.

We must remember that in Scripture the church is viewed in two ways. On the one hand, it is presented according to the counsels of God; on the other hand, it is viewed in connection with the responsibility of man. In the first aspect it is presented in Scripture as founded upon Christ the Son of God, composed of all true believers, and destined to be presented to Christ a glorious church without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. As such, it is the result of Christ's own work, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. No ruin can touch Christ's work, nor set aside God's eternal counsels for Christ and the church.

In the second aspect, the church is viewed as set in responsibility to witness for Christ during the time of His absence, and to present the grace of God to a needy world. Alas! the church has entirely failed in carrying out this responsibility. Through lack of dependence upon the Lord, submission to the Spirit, and obedience to the Word, the people of God have become divided and scattered; and lack of watchfulness has ended in a vast profession embracing believers and unbelievers. In result, that which passes before the world as the church, so far from representing the glory of Christ, is “a denial of the nature, the love, the holiness, and the affections of Christ.” Thus on earth the testimony of the church has been ruined. The fact that we have to speak of a professing church which is visible, and a spiritual church composed of all true believers which is invisible, only shows how complete is the ruin.

If, then, we speak of living in a day of ruin, we mean that our lot is cast in a day when the church's witness to an absent Christ has been ruined. In the addresses to the seven churches in The Revelation we have a prophetic outline of the church's history on earth, viewed as the responsible witness for Christ; and therein we have the church's progressive failure in responsibility foretold with divine accuracy by the Lord Himself, beginning with its departure from first love, and ending with a condition so nauseous to Christ that it will finally be spued out of His mouth.

Scripture, however, gives further light as to a day of ruin. In this Second Epistle to Timothy, we not only have the prediction of the ruin, but the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, gives very definite directions to the godly how to act when the ruin has come in. However dark the day, however great the ruin, the people of God are not left without divine guidance. The mercy of God has marked out a path for His people in a day of ruin. We may lack the faith in God and the devotedness to Christ that are necessary to take the path; none the less it is marked out in the word of God for the obedience of faith.

Thus we reach the conclusion that two things are necessary in order to take God's path intelligently in the midst of the ruin. Firstly, it is essential that we have some knowledge of Paul's doctrine (which includes the truth of the gospel as well as the truth of the church); secondly, there must be a right spiritual condition. Without some knowledge of the church, as presented in Scripture, it would be impossible to appreciate the extent of the ruin; and without a right spiritual condition, the believer would hardly be prepared to take the path that God has marked out in the midst of the ruin.

Paul evidently assumes that the one to whom he writes is well acquainted with his doctrine. In the first and second chapters he refers to the things which Timothy had heard of him ( 2Ti_1:13 ; 2Ti_2:2 ); and in the third chapter he says, “Thou hast fully known my doctrine.” There is therefore no doctrinal unfolding of the truth of the church in this Second Epistle. Such truth is fully presented by the apostle in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, the First Epistle to the Corinthians and the First Epistle to Timothy.

The path of God for us in a day of ruin, and the spiritual condition needed to take the path, are unfolded in this second chapter of the Second Epistle to Timothy. If we desire to answer to God's mind in this day of failure we shall do well to study prayerfully this important passage. The truths of this chapter may be viewed in the following order:

(a) The spiritual condition necessary to discern and take God's path for us amidst the failure of Christendom (verses 1-13);

(b) A brief outline of the course of the evil that has led to the corruption of Christendom (verses 14-18);

(c) The resource of the godly and the path of God for the individual in the midst of the ruin (verses 19-22);

(d) The spirit in which to meet those who raise opposition to God's path (verses 23-26).

(a) The needed spiritual condition for God's path in a day of ruin (verses 1-13)

(V. 1). Spiritual grace is the first great necessity in a day of weakness. Hence the exhortation of the opening verse is to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” To stand against the rising tide of evil, to step into a path that the Lord has marked out for His own in the midst of the corruptions of Christendom, and to continue steadfastly walking in this path in spite of failure, opposition and desertion, calls for great grace - the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Whatever opposition there may be to God's path, whatever difficulties in persevering in it, whatever temptations to turn from it, the grace of the Lord is sufficient to enable the believer to overcome all opposition, rise above every difficulty, resist all temptation, and to obey His word and answer to His mind. As one has said, “Whatever the want, His fulness is the same, undiminished, accessible and free.” Spiritual grace is the first requisite for “faithful men” in a day of unfaithfulness. Further, the grace of which the apostle speaks is more than a “gracious spirit”. It implies that in the risen and ascended Christ, from the time of the church's inception on earth to the last day of its stay here, there is every resource to enable the man of God to maintain his life of testimony and service without resorting to any of the expedients of man that so many have adopted in a day of declension. Writing to the Corinthians, the apostle can thank God for “the grace of God” given to them “in Christ Jesus”; and at once he shows that this grace is the “word of doctrine”, the “knowledge” and the “gifts” with which they had been enriched in Christ ( 1Co_1:4-7 ). Every exhortation in the chapter will only deepen our sense of the need of the grace that is in Christ Jesus if we are to answer to the mind of God.

(V. 2). Secondly, not only is grace needed, but the faithful must also possess the truth if they are to be furnished with the mind of God for a day of failure and fitted to instruct others. Further, the truth needed for a day of ruin is not only the truth found in Scripture as a whole, but, very specially, the truth as communicated by the apostle in the presence of many witnesses. In a day of ruin, apostolic writings become a very definite test whereby to discern “faithful men”. “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us”, says the apostle John ( 1Jn_4:6 ).

In order, then, that through all time we may possess the truth, Timothy is instructed to commit “the things” heard from the apostle to faithful men, who, in their turn, will be able to instruct others. It is God's way that the truth enshrined in apostolic writings should be committed to those able to teach others. The self-sufficiency and self-importance of the flesh may flatter itself that it can dispense with the help of others; but, while God is sovereign and can teach directly from His word, His usual way is to keep us mutually dependent upon one another - to receive as learners, and to communicate to others the truth and light which we have received.

Moreover, it is important to see that what we pass on is not official authority, or official position, but the truth. Timothy had neither commission nor power to pass on to any individual, or class of individuals, the exclusive or official right to preach. It was the revealed truth, guaranteed against error by means of witnesses, that was to be committed to others. In the light of this Scripture we may well challenge ourselves as to how far we are answering to our responsibilities in committing to others the precious heritage of truth that we have learned from faithful men. To maintain the truth and pass it on to others is only possible as we are strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

(V. 3). The maintenance of the truth in a day of general departure will involve suffering. Naturally we shrink from suffering. Therefore, Timothy is exhorted, - and each one that desires to be true to Christ - “Take thy share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Compared with Paul the “share” of suffering we may be called to take will be small; but, wherever there is a saint today that refuses error and stands for the truth, he must be prepared in some measure to face opposition ( 2Ti_2:25 ), persecution ( 2Ti_3:12 ), desertion ( 2Ti_4:10 ), and malice ( 2Ti_4:14 ); and, as with the apostle, these things may come even from his brethren. This, however, involves suffering, and naturally when suffering unjustly we are inclined to retaliate. We are therefore reminded to take our share in suffering, not as a natural man, but “as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”. A good soldier will obey his Captain and act as he does. Christ is the great Captain of our salvation, and He has reached His place of glory “through sufferings”, and He has left us the perfect example of suffering in patience, for “when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” ( 1Pe_2:23 ). To act in a way so contrary to nature will indeed demand that we should “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

The Lord Jesus is in the place of supreme power and in due course will exercise the power by which He is able to subdue all enemies under His feet. It is still, however, the day of grace; the day of judgment for the enemies of grace has not yet come. We therefore need, not power to crush our enemies, but grace to take our share in suffering. Stephen, in the presence of his enemies, who gnashed upon him with their teeth, and stoned him with their stones, looked up steadfastly into heaven to “Jesus standing at the right hand of God”. But, though Jesus is Lord in the place of supreme power, He does not generally act in power to crush the enemies of His servants, nor did He give Stephen power to crush his enemies. He did that which is in perfect keeping with the day of grace. He gave grace by which Stephen was so strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus that he was able to take his share in suffering, and, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, he did not threaten or revile his persecutors; on the contrary, he prayed for them and committed his spirit to the Lord.

Paul, likewise in his day, was so strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus that he endured suffering for Christ's sake and committed his life, his happiness, his all, unto Christ against “that day” ( 2Ti_1:12 ).

(V. 4). Fourthly, if we are whole-heartedly to accept God's path in a day of failure, it will be necessary to keep ourselves from being entangled with the affairs of this life. The apostle does not suggest that we are not to attend to the affairs of this life, or that we are necessarily called to give up our earthly business. In other Scriptures he refutes such a thought, for he definitely instructs us to work with our hands to provide things honest, and can say of himself, “Ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities.” But he warns us against allowing the affairs of this life so to occupy our time, absorb our energies, and so wholly engage our minds, that we become entangled as in a net, and are no longer free to carry out the Lord's will. The good soldier of Jesus Christ is one who seeks, not to please himself, or even others, but first and foremost to please the One who has chosen him to be a soldier. In loyal allegiance to the One who has chosen us to be soldiers under His leadership, and seeking only His pleasure, we should refuse every human organisation that involves direction from some human authority. To escape the entanglements of this life and be loyal to the Captain of our salvation will only be possible as we are strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

(V. 5). Fifthly, using the public games as a figure, the apostle says, “If also anyone contend in the games, he is not crowned unless he contend lawfully.” So in the spiritual sphere, the crown will not be given for great activity, nor for the amount of service, but for faithfulness in service. The crown is given to the one who strives lawfully. It might be argued that, in a day of great weakness, we must each adopt whatever methods we think best to accomplish our service. To meet such arguments we are specially warned that, in a day of ruin, it is still incumbent upon us to “strive lawfully”. Thus the introduction of carnal methods, human devices and worldly expedients in the service of the Lord is condemned. To serve according to the principles of Scripture will demand that we are “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

(V. 6). Sixthly, the faithful servant must be prepared to labour before partaking of the fruits. This is not our rest; it is the time of labour; the reaping time is coming. We are often over-anxious to see fruit; but it is better to persevere in our work, knowing that God is not unrighteous to forget our “work of faith and labour of love”. The faithful servant waits to hear the “Well done” of the One he seeks to please, to receive the crown after striving lawfully, and to partake of the fruits after having laboured.

(V. 7). It is not enough, however, to have these exhortations and in a general way admit their truth. If they are to govern our lives, we must consider what the apostle says; and, as we ponder these things, the Lord will give us understanding in all things. We shall make little progress in divine understanding unless we take time to meditate. The apostle can set certain truths before us, but he can not give us understanding. This the Lord alone can do. So we read that the Lord not only “opened” to the disciples the Scriptures, but He opened “their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures” ( Luk_24:27 ; Luk_24:32 ; Luk_24:45 ).

(V. 8). Furthermore, as an encouragement to us to carry out these instructions, our gaze is directed to Christ. We are to “remember Jesus Christ raised from among the dead, of the seed of David, according to my glad tidings.” It is not simply the fact of the resurrection that we are to remember, but the One who is risen, and that as Man, the seed of David. Are we called to suffer in the path of faithfulness? Then let us remember that our “share” of suffering is small compared with the suffering He had to meet. If through any little faithfulness on our part we find ourselves deserted, opposed and insulted, even by many of the people of God, let us remember that Christ, in His perfect path, was ever faithful to God and went about doing good to men; and yet, because of His faithfulness, He was ever in reproach. Thus He could say, “For Thy sake I have borne reproach”, and again, “They have rewarded Me evil for good, and hatred for My love” ( Psa_69:7 ; Psa_109:5 ).

If, in the path of service, we are exhorted to endure suffering, seeking only to please Him who hath chosen us, let us remember that Christ could say, “I do always those things that please Him” ( Joh_8:29 ). Nothing could move the Lord from the path of absolute obedience to the Father. He laboured, having in view the fruit of His toil, for He could say, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day” ( Joh_9:4 ). Now He has finished the work God gave Him to do; the suffering and the toil are over and we see Him risen and crowned with glory and honour, there to receive in resurrection “the fruit of the travail of His soul”. Let us, then, in our path with its measure of suffering and toil “remember Jesus Christ.”

(V. 9). Not only have we the perfect pattern of the Lord Jesus in His path of suffering and toil, but we have the example of the apostle Paul who, in his devotedness in making known the gospel, partook in no small measure of the sufferings of the life of Christ. Instead of being in honour in this world he suffered even unto bonds as an evil-doer. Thus he followed in the footsteps of His Master who was charged by the religious world of His day as being “a gluttonous man, and a winebibber”, as having “a devil”, and being “a sinner” ( Luk_7:34 ; Joh_8:48 ; Joh_9:24 ).

However, no persecution on the part of the world can hinder the blessing reaching God's elect. The world may bind the preacher: it cannot bind the word of God. Indeed, the enmity of the world that bound Paul only became an occasion to bring the gospel before the great ones of the earth, and withal to write the prison Epistles that so marvellously unfold our calling.

(V. 10). We may not be prepared to endure much suffering or insult, but the apostle can say, “I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” One has said, “How few would venture to say these words as their own souls' experience from that day to this! Nevertheless, we may earnestly desire it in our measure; but it supposes in the believer not merely a good conscience, and a heart burning in love, but himself thoroughly self-judged, and Christ dwelling in his heart by faith” (W.K.).

God's elect will assuredly obtain salvation and reach the glory. Nevertheless, on the way to the glory they will have arrayed against them all the power of Satan, the enmity of the world, and the corruptions of Christendom. So it will be through trial and suffering they will reach the glory. To bring the elect through such circumstances there will be needed all “the grace which is in Christ Jesus” ministered, as it often is, through His faithful servants.

(Vv. 11, 12). To encourage us to remember Jesus Christ and follow the example of the apostle in accepting the path of suffering and toil, we are reminded of the faithful saying, “If we have died together with Him, we shall also live together.” If we are called to “endure all things”, even death, let us not forget that we can afford to let go the present life in the light of the great truth that having died with Christ we shall surely live with Him. And not only shall we live with Him, but, “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.”

(Vv. 12, 13). There is, however, the solemn warning, “If we deny, He also will deny us; if we are unfaithful, He abides faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” The denial here is no isolated fall, however shameful, as in the case of the apostle Peter, but the continued course of those who, whatever profession they make, deny the glory and work of the Son. Such will be denied, as it has been truly said, “God would cease to be God, if He acquiesced in the dishonour of His Son.” Amidst all the unfaithfulness of Christendom to Christ, “He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.”

Thus the opening verses of this great passage clearly demonstrate that, in order to discern God's part in a day of ruin and, above all, to tread faithfully this path in the face of desertion, opposition and malice does not call for divine power to crush our enemies, but for the grace that is in Christ Jesus that will enable us to take our share in suffering - the grace that seeks with single eye to please the One that has chosen us; the grace that will lead us to strive lawfully, refusing all carnal and worldly methods; and the grace that prepares for patient toil while waiting for the fruits of our labour.

Moreover, we shall require, not only grace ministered from the Lord in glory, but the spiritual understanding that the Lord alone can give, and above all to have the Lord Himself before us as our one Object - a true Man of the seed of David, but a living Man in glory beyond the power of death.

(b) The course of the evil that has led to the ruin of the church as the house of God (verses 14-18)

In the opening verses of the chapter we have brought before us the spiritual condition that should characterise “faithful men” and enable them to discern the grave departure from the truth, as well as God's path in the midst of the corruption. Before setting before us God's path, the apostle, in verses 14 to 18, briefly touches upon some of the evils that have brought about the ruin of the church in responsibility.

(Vv. 14-16). Already we have learnt from the first chapter that all in Asia had turned away from the apostle. This implies that the church had not maintained itself at the height of the heavenly calling. The first step in the decline of the church was the surrender of its heavenly character. It is always the highest truth that is first given up. This surrender of the heavenly calling left open the door for the intrusion of the world and the flesh. In verse 14 of this chapter God's servant refers to the first manifestation of the corruption. He traces the ruin to speculations of the human mind leading to strife “about words to no profit”, and thus letting go “the word of truth”.

He warns us against disputes of words and recalls us, not only to the word of truth, but to the word of truth rightly divided. All Scripture is the word of truth and yet what disaster may be wrought by giving Scripture a private interpretation, or by using texts out of their context, and thus, as Peter says, wresting Scripture to our destruction.

Then we are warned of further decline. The profitless speculation of verse 14 would degenerate into “profane and vain babblings”. Babblings that are profane treat divine things as if they were common, inasmuch as they make light of sacred things. They are “vain” in that the arguments used are without any substance.

Further, we are warned that these profane and vain babblings will increase. As far as the mass of the Christian profession is concerned, Paul holds out no hope that the downgrade movement will be permanently arrested. On the contrary, we are definitely warned that the evil “will increase”.

Moreover, we are warned that with the increase of profane and vain babblings there will come an increase of ungodly conduct. Profane talk leads to ungodly walk. Holding or propagating error will, as ever, lower the outward conduct. Laxity of doctrine leads to laxity of morals.

(Vv. 17, 18). A further terrible result of the increase of profane babblings and ungodliness will be the destruction of the vital truths of Christianity in the minds of men, for we read that the word of these profane babblers will spread as a gangrene which eats into and destroys the vital tissues of the body.

Thus, step by step, with divine skill, the apostle traces the progress of the evil that has corrupted Christendom:

Firstly, human speculations about words to no profit;

Secondly, disputes about the words degenerating into profane and vain babblings;

Thirdly, the ever-increasing profane and vain babblings leading to ungodliness; the outward conduct of the Christian profession increasingly lowered to a level where men act without fear of God;

Fourthly, ungodly walk tending to destroy and rob men of the great vital truths of Christianity.

To show the effect of this degeneration and the evil condition into which Christendom would fall, the apostle gives two solemn examples. Hymen'e6us and Philetus, two men within the Christian profession, were teaching error. Instead of “rightly dividing the word of truth”, they had erred concerning the truth. They taught that the resurrection is past already. Apparently, they did not deny the resurrection; they appear to have spiritualised it and argued that, in some way, it had already taken place. Such an error is not to be lightly dismissed as the wild speculation of irresponsible fanatics. However unreasonable the error, the apostle foresees it will corrupt the professing church and act as a gangrene. Nor is it difficult to see that it would “overthrow the faith” of those who imbibed the error. If the resurrection is past already, it is evident that the saints have reached their final condition while yet on earth, with the result that the church ceases to look for the coming of the Lord, loses the truth of its heavenly destiny, and gives up its stranger and pilgrim character. Having lost its heavenly character, the church settles down on the earth, taking a place as part of the system for the reformation and government of the world.

When this end has been reached, the devil's work has been done and he will no longer lead his instruments to press the particular error. Today there may be no one who would attempt to teach that the resurrection is past already, but the results of this extravagant error remain and are seen fully developed in the Christian profession. The constitution, administration, religious efforts, missionary zeal of professing Christendom take for granted that the church is in her settled home and doing her appointed work in seeking to reform the world and civilise the heathen in order to make this world a respectable and happy place.

(c) God's path for the individual in a day of ruin (verses 19-22)

(V. 19). Having foretold the evil condition into which Christendom will fall, the apostle now gives us instruction how to act in the midst of the ruin. Before doing so he brings before us two great facts for the comfort of our hearts.:

Firstly, however great the failure of man, “the foundation of God standeth sure.” The foundation is God's own work- whatever form that work may take - whether the foundation in the soul, or the foundation of the church on earth, through the instrumentality of the apostles and the coming of the Holy Spirit. No failure of man can set aside the foundation that God has laid, or prevent God from completing what He has commenced.

Secondly, for our comfort we are told, “The Lord knoweth them that are His”, and, as one has said, “This knowing is no less that an acquaintance of heart with heart, a relation between the Lord and those that are His.” The confusion has become so great, believers and unbelievers found in such close association, that, as to the mass, we cannot definitely say who is the Lord's and who is not. In such a condition, what a comfort to know that what is of God cannot be set aside, and those that are the Lord's, though hidden in the mass, cannot be ultimately lost.

God's work, and the Lord's own, will come to light in “that day” to which the apostle again and again alludes in the course of the Epistle ( 2Ti_1:12 ; 2Ti_1:18 ; 2Ti_4:8 ).

Having comforted our hearts as to the abiding character of God's work and the security of those that are the Lord's, God's servant instructs the individual how to act amidst the corruptions of Christendom.

After the departure of the apostles, decline rapidly set in and has continued throughout the centuries until, today, we see in Christendom the solemn conditions foretold by Paul. Moreover, as we have seen, the apostle holds out no hope of recovery on the part of the mass. On the contrary, he warns us more than once that, with the passing of time, there will be an increase of evil. Not only profane and vain babblings will increase ( 2Ti_2:16 ) but evil men and seducers shall wax worse ( 2Ti_3:13 ), and the time will come when the Christian profession will not endure sound doctrine, but will turn away its ears from the truth ( 2Ti_4:3 ).

If, as we are shown, there is no prospect of recovery for the great mass of the Christian profession, how is the individual to act who desires to be faithful to the Lord? This deeply serious question is taken up and answered by the apostle in the important passage that follows - a passage that clearly marks out God's path for the individual in a day of ruin (verses 19-22).

Let us first note that we are not told to leave that which professes to be the house of God on earth. This is impossible unless we leave the earth or become apostate. We are not to give up the profession of Christianity because, in the hands of men, that profession has become corrupt. Further, we are not told to reform the corrupt profession. Christendom as a whole is beyond reformation.

If, however, we are not to leave the profession, nor seek to reform the mass, nor to settle down quietly and sanction the corruption by association with it, what is the course we should pursue?

Having comforted our hearts the apostle proceeds to set before the individual believer the path God would have him to tread in a day of ruin. We may be sure that however dark the day, however difficult the times, however great the corruption, there never has been, and never will be, a period in the church's history on earth when the godly are left without direction as to the path in the midst of the ruin. God has foreseen the ruin, and God has provided in His word for a day of ruin. Through lack of exercise we may fail to discern the path; through lack of faith we may shrink from taking it; none the less God's path is marked out for us as plainly in the darkest day as in the brightest.

If, then, God has marked out a path for His people in a day of ruin, it is evident we are not left to devise a path for ourselves or simply to do the best we can. Our part is to seek to discern God's path and step into it in the obedience of faith, while seeking grace from God to maintain us in the path.

Separation from evil is the first step in God's path. If I cannot reform the evils of Christendom, I am responsible to be right myself. Though I cannot give up the profession of Christianity, I can indeed separate from the evils of the profession. Let us carefully note how many times, under different terms and in different ways, separation from evil is urged in the Epistle. The apostle says:

“Shun profane and vain babblings” - 2Ti_2:16 ;

“Depart from iniquity” - 2Ti_2:19 ;

“Purge himself from these” (vessels to dishonour) - 2Ti_2:21 ;

“Flee also youthful lusts” - 2Ti_2:22 ;

“Foolish and senseless questionings avoid” - 2Ti_2:23 ;

“From such turn away” - 2Ti_3:5 .

Firstly, then, it is incumbent upon all who name the Name of the Lord to depart (or “withdraw”) from iniquity. We must not link up the Name of the Lord with evil in any form. The confusion and disorder of Christendom has become so great that, on the one hand, we may easily misjudge that a person is not the Lord's who at heart is a real believer - but, “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” On the other hand, the one that confesses the Lord is responsible to depart from iniquity. If he refuses to do so, he cannot complain if he is misjudged. In a day of confusion it is no longer enough that a person confesses the Lord. His confession must be put to the test. The test is, do we submit to the authority of the Lord by departing from iniquity? To remain in association with evil and name the Name of the Lord is to connect His Name with evil.

(Vv. 20, 21). Secondly, we are not only to separate from iniquity but also from persons associated with evil, here called vessels to dishonour. The apostle uses the illustration of a great house of a man of the world to set forth the condition into which Christendom has fallen. That which takes the place on earth of being the house of God, instead of being apart from the world and in contrast with the world, has become like the world and the houses of the world, in which there are vessels of different materials used for different purposes, but in which vessels to honour may be found in contact with vessels to dishonour. If, however, a vessel is to be fit for the Master's use, it must not be in contact with a vessel to dishonour.

Thus, in the application, the believer who would be fit for the Lord's use must “purge himself” from vessels to dishonour. It has been pointed out that the only other place in the New Testament where the word translated “purge” is used is in 1Co_5:7 , where the Corinthians assembly is instructed to “purge out '85 the old leaven.” When the assembly was in its normal condition, and an evil-doer was found in their midst, they were instructed to “put away” from among themselves the wicked person. Here the apostle foresees a time when the condition of the professing mass will be so low that there will be no power to put out the evil-doer. In such a condition, when all godly remonstrance is in vain, the godly are instructed to separate themselves from vessels to dishonour. In both cases the principle is the same: there is to be no association between the godly and the ungodly. To refuse such association, in one case - the normal condition - the assembly is to “purge out '85 the old leaven”; in the other case - when there is no longer power to deal with the evil - the vessel unto honour is to “purge himself” from the vessels to dishonour in separating himself from them. One has truly said, “If any therefore bear the Lord's Name, who, under the plea of unity, or the love of ease, or through partiality for their friends, tolerate the evil which Scripture shows to be hateful to God, a godly man has no option, but is bound to hear the divine word and to purge himself from these vessels to dishonour.”

Thus it is clear we must cease to do evil before learning to do well; for it is only as separated from evil that anyone becomes sanctified and meet for the Master's use and prepared unto every good work. The measure of our separation will be the measure of our preparation. One has truly said, “In every age of the church any little effort to obey this injunction has had its reward, whether observed by one or more; and whoever will take the trouble to investigate the course of any distinguished servant of the Lord, or company of believers, he will find that separation from surrounding evil was one of the leading characteristics, and that service and honour were proportionate thereto, but declined and waned as this key to service was neglected or unused.”

For his comfort and encouragement, the one acting upon this injunction is assured that he will not only be fit for the Master's use, but that he will be “a vessel unto honour”. He may have to meet the reproaches, and even scorn, of those from whom he separates, but, says the apostle, “he shall be a vessel unto honour.”

These verses show that the separation is of a twofold character: firstly, we are to withdraw from every iniquitous system; secondly, we are to separate from dishonourable persons.

Here, then, is our warrant for the individual to separate from all these great systems of men, which set aside Christ as the alone Head of His body, which ignore the presence of the Holy Spirit, which are fast giving up the vital truths of Christianity, in which believers and unbelievers are associated together, and in which there is no power to deal with evil or admit principles that make it impossible for evil to be dealt with.

(V. 22). The instruction to separate from evil is followed by the equally important injunction, “Flee also youthful lusts.” Having separated from the corruptions of Christendom, we are to beware lest we fall into the corruptions of nature. “Youthful lusts” would not only allude to the grosser desires of the flesh, but also to all those things which fallen nature desires with the thoughtless impetuosity and self-will of youth. Never are we in greater danger of acting in the flesh than when we have acted in faithfulness to the Lord. One has said, “We may be beguiled into moral relaxation through satisfaction in our ecclesiastical separation.” How seasonable, then, is this exhortation to flee also youthful lusts, following, as it does, the injunction to withdraw from iniquity and separate from vessels to dishonour.

Having separated from the corruptions of Christendom and refused the corruptions of nature, we are exhorted to pursue certain great moral qualities which give a positive character to the path. We are not told to follow some prominent teacher, though we should gladly recognise every gift, if leading in the path that has these marks. The qualities we are to pursue are “righteousness, faith, love, peace”.

Righteousness of necessity comes first, for here it is the individual path that is in question. Having separated from iniquity we are to judge our ways and see that all our practical relations, whether in connection with the world or God's people, are in accord with righteousness.

Faith comes next and narrows the path still more, for faith has to do with God; and not every righteous way is a way of faith. Practical righteousness toward men, in the sense of honest dealing with one another, may exist without faith in God. God's path for His own through this world demands the constant exercise of faith in the living God. We not only need a path to tread, but we need faith to tread the path.

Love follows. If right in our practical relations with others, and walking by faith in God, our hearts will be free to go out in love to others. “Faith in Christ Jesus” is followed by “love to all the saints” ( Eph_1:15 ; Col_1:4 ).

Peace comes last and in its due place as the outcome of righteousness, faith and love. Righteousness heads the list and peace closes it, for “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace.” Unless guarded by the qualities that precede it, the pursuit of peace may degenerate into indifference to Christ and acquiescence in evil.

Here, then, we have plain instructions for our individual path in a day of ruin. The instructions, however, do not cease with these individual directions, for, at this point, the apostle passes from what is individual to what is collective. He tells us that these qualities are to be pursued “with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.” The words “with them” clearly bring in what is collective. This is of the deepest importance, as, without this instruction, we might ask, What Scriptural warrant have we for walking with others in a day of ruin? Here is our warrant: we are not left in isolation. There will always be others who, in a day of ruin, call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. Calling upon the Lord is the expression of dependence upon the Lord and seems specially connected with a day of departure from the Lord. In the evil days of Seth we read, “Then began men to call upon the Name of the Lord.” So, too, we read of Abraham, when he came out from country, kindred and father's house, that he “called upon the Name of the Lord.” Thus we have a company who, in loyalty to the Lord, have separated from the corruptions of Christendom and, in this outside place, walk in dependence upon the Lord, and do so as having a pure heart. A pure heart is not one that claims to be pure, but rather one that, under the eye of the Lord, follows righteousness, faith, love and peace.

Thus we have a definite path marked out by the word of God for a day of ruin characterised:

Firstly, by separation from the corruptions of Christendom;

Secondly, by separation from the corruptions of the flesh;

Thirdly, by the pursuit of certain moral qualities;

Fourthly, by association with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.

If, then, a few find themselves together, according to these plain directions, the question may well arise, What principles are to guide them in their worship, in remembering the Lord, in their meetings for edification, in their service, and in their manner of life toward one another and the world? The reply is simple: such will at once find there is available for their guidance all the principles for the ordering of every detail of God's assembly, as brought before us in the Epistle to the Corinthians and other portions of the New Testament, principles which no ruin in the church can set aside. Moreover, having separated from the evils of Christendom, such will find that many principles and directions for the practical administration of the church, which would be hardly possible to carry out in the systems of men, can now be applied in simplicity. Thus those who accept God's path in a day of ruin will find that it is still possible to walk in the light of the assembly as constituted in the beginning. They will not, indeed, set up to be the assembly, or even a model of the assembly for, at most, they are but a few individuals who have separated from the corruptions of Christendom and hence, if a witness, are only a witness to the ruined condition of the church in these closing days, rather than a pattern of the church in its early days.

(d) The spirit in which to meet opposition (verses 23-26)

In the closing verses of the chapter we have an important warning to the servant of the Lord. In reference to this path of separation from the corruptions of Christendom, the apostle foresees that if there are those who will obey these directions, there will also be those by whom they will be strenuously opposed. The assertion of these truths will call forth a crop of “foolish and unlearned questions”. Experience has shown how true this is. Almost every argument that human ingenuity can suggest has been used to set aside the plain instructions of this passage. We are warned that these arguments will “gender strifes”. Whatever happens, the servant of the Lord is not to be drawn into strife - he “must not strive.” If he allows himself to be drawn into strife, he may find himself thoroughly defeated, though standing for the absolute truth. The servant is to remember that he is only the servant and not the Master. As the servant of the Lord, it is his business to exhibit the character of the Lord - gentleness, aptness to teach, patience and meekness in the presence of opposition. The natural tendency is to defend and cling to that with which one is associated, even though it be thoroughly unscriptural. Hence the first effect of the presentation of these truths is often to raise opposition. If, as it may be, the servant himself once opposed, it becomes him to have great patience and great meekness in seeking to instruct others. In presenting the truth it must not be with the thought that by his clear presentation, or meekness of manner, it will be accepted, but with the definite sense that it is only God who can bring anyone “to the acknowledging of the truth”.

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 2". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/2-timothy-2.html. 1832.
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