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5 The Service of God in a Day of Ruin
( 2 Timothy 4 )
In the third chapter the apostle has very fully foretold the terrible condition of the Christian profession in the last days and, further, has reminded believers of the rich provision that God has made in order that they may be “furnished unto all good works” in a day of abounding evil.
Having set forth the ruin of the profession and the resources of the godly, Paul, in this fourth chapter, gives special instruction for the service of the Lord in the day of general failure.
Experience tells us that in a day of increasing evil in the Christian profession and weakness among the people of God, the servant can easily be discouraged and lose heart in his service. Hence the importance of these instructions in which the writer, instead of allowing the sorrowful and hopeless state of Christendom to be an excuse for apathy on the part of the servant, uses it as an incentive to more earnest service.
(V. 1). The apostle opens this portion of his instruction by presenting the grounds of his appeal to believers to persevere in their service for the Lord. He speaks with all solemnity as before God and Christ Jesus, the great Observers of our position and of the stand we make, and urges us to service in view of three great facts:
Firstly, Christ is the Judge of the living and the dead. He is the Arbiter of the path we tread and of our condition in that path. Moreover, such is the condition of the Christian profession, that the greater number is unconverted and passing on to judgment, either as living men when Christ appears or as numbered with the dead at the Great White Throne. It becomes us then to warn men of the coming judgment and point them to the Saviour.
Secondly, Paul encourages us to continue in our service by the great truth of the appearing of Christ. The better translation is “and by His appearing”, making the appearing a second and distinct fact from the judgment of the living and the dead. He does not speak of the rapture, but of the appearing of Christ to reign, for the reward for service is always connected with the appearing. The word is, “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be” ( Rev_22:12 ).
Thirdly, we are encouraged to service by “His kingdom”. Every soul saved through the preaching of the gospel will add to the glory of Christ when He comes to reign and be glorified in His saints.
Whether, then, it be the judgment of the wicked, the reward of the servant, or the glory of Christ, there is every incentive for the servant to persevere in his service.
(V. 2). Having stated the grounds of his appeal the apostle delivers his charge to serve. If men are responsible to God, then “proclaim the word; be urgent in season and out of season.” If Christ is going to judge, then “convict” and “rebuke” those who live in a way that calls for judgment. If the saints are going to be rewarded at the appearing of Christ, then “encourage, with all long-suffering and doctrine.”
The servant is to proclaim “the word”. This is not simply the gospel to the sinner, but “the word” of God to both sinner and saint. There is a necessity too for urgency in preaching, as well as to preach at all seasons. The word of God is for all people at all times. Conviction and rebuke may be called for, both among saints and sinners. But this can only be by the preaching of the word, for it is only the word that produces conviction. We may seek to convict and rebuke by our own words and arguments, only to find that we irritate and call forth resentment. Rebukes, if they are to be effectual, must be based upon the word of God. For those who are willing to bow to the word and accept its convictions and rebukes, there is the word of encouragement.
Whatever form the service may take, it is to be carried out with all long-suffering and according to the truth or “doctrine”. The word will assuredly raise the opposition of the flesh and this will call for long-suffering on the part of the servant, and the only effectual answer to opposition is in the doctrine or truth of Scripture.
(Vv. 3, 4). In the first verse God's servant has looked beyond the present period and, in the light of what is coming, presses the urgency of service. Now again he looks on, but to the end of the Christian period, and uses the appalling conditions that will be found among the professors of Christianity as a fresh incentive for activity in service. Already he has spoken of false teachers that creep into houses; now he speaks of the people themselves. Whether teachers fail or not, the time will come when the people, “having itching ears”, will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts will they heap to themselves teachers. This is not a description of heathen who have never heard the truth, but of Christendom wherein men have heard the gospel but will no longer endure it. Even so, they do not give up all profession of Christianity for they still heap to themselves teachers, but they must be teachers who do not interfere with the gratification of their worldly lusts by preaching the truth.
That companies of professing Christians should choose a teacher is entirely foreign to Scripture and shows how far Christendom has departed from the order of God for His assembly. The result of this disorder is that too often the chosen teacher is but a blind leader of the blind, and “if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew xv. 14). Thus it comes to pass, that in turning from the truth, men “shall be turned unto fables.”
(V. 5). If, then, the condition of Christendom has become so appalling that those who profess Christianity will not endure sound doctrine, follow their lusts and turn to fables, it behoves the servant to “be sober in all things”, having his judgment formed by the truth and not allowing his mind to be influenced by the evils and fables of the professing mass.
Already we have been exhorted to “suffer evil along with the glad tidings”, to take our “share in suffering” as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; and we have been warned that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” ( 2Ti_1:8 ; 2Ti_2:3 ; 2Ti_3:12 ). Now we are further warned that we must be prepared to “endure afflictions” because of the evils of Christendom.
Thus the faithful must be prepared for suffering because of the gospel, for the sake of Jesus Christ on the ground of piety of a Christian type, and in view of the evils of the day.
Further, however evil the day, and as long as the day of grace continues, the man of God, whatever his gift, is to pursue his work as an evangelist. The abandonment of the truth by the mass, with the greater part of their so-called churches given up to worldliness and fables, only makes it more incumbent upon the man of God to continue evangelistic work, and fill up the full measure of his ministry. The Lord's work is not to be half done. We are to seek to finish to perfection that which He gives us to do.
(V. 6). The servant of Christ now refers to his departure as another incentive for service. The end of his life of devotedness, and the consequent persecution from the world, was so near that he could say, “I am already being poured out.” He speaks of his departure as the time of his “release”. For him to leave this scene was a release from a body that kept him from Christ, but he presents it as a reason for Timothy filling up the full measure of his ministry. How often, since that day, has the removal of a devoted servant been used of the Lord to stir up those who are left to active service.
(V. 7). If, however, the church was going to be bereft of the active guidance of the apostle, his example remains for our encouragement. Here, then, Paul on the eve of his departure looks back over his path as a servant, and looks on to the day of glory when his service will have its bright reward. Looking back, he can say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” In Paul's day the faith was already assailed on every side, and it is still more attacked in our day. Outwith the Christian circle it was opposed by Jewish ritualists and Gentile philosophers. Within the Christian profession there were those who “erred concerning the faith” ( 1Ti_6:21 ), and some who were “reprobate concerning the faith” ( 2Ti_3:8 ). In the presence of those attacks from within and without Paul could say, “I have fought the good fight.” He had fought for the faith and he had “kept the faith”.
“The faith” is more than the gospel of our salvation; it centres in Christ and embraces the glories of His Person and the greatness of His work. It involves the whole truth of Christianity. The apostle boldly fought for the faith, refusing to allow any inroad upon it from any quarter. No false charity was allowed to interfere with his uncompromising defence of the glory of the Person and work of Christ.
(V. 8). Having fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith, he could look on with great assurance to the future and say, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” He had trodden the path of righteousness ( 2Ti_2:22 ), followed the instruction of righteousness ( 2Ti_3:16 ), and now looked on to wear the crown of righteousness.
Moreover, the crown of righteousness will be given to the apostle by the Lord, the righteous Judge. He had maintained the rights of the Lord in the day of His rejection, and he will receive the crown of righteousness in the day of His glory. Man had given the apostle a prison; many of the saints had deserted him, and some had opposed him; but, with him it was “a very small thing” that he should be judged of the saints or of man's judgment. For him the Lord was the Judge ( 1Co_4:3-5 ). He does not say that the judgment of the saints as to the faithfulness, or otherwise, of his course was nothing; but, compared with the judgment of the Lord, it was a very small thing. Too often our judgments of one another are warped by petty personalities and selfish considerations. The Lord is the righteous Judge.
For the third time in the course of the Epistle, the apostle refers to “that day” ( 2Ti_1:12 ; 2Ti_1:18 ; 2Ti_4:8 ). In all the sufferings, persecutions, desertions and insults that he had to meet, that day shone brightly before him - the day of the Lord's appearing. How much there is that we cannot understand and cannot unravel, how many slights and insults in the presence of which we have to be silent in this day. But from all these things we can find relief by committing them to the Lord - the righteous Judge - against that day, when He will both “bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” ( 1Co_4:5 ).
Further, for our encouragement, we are told that the crown of righteousness is not simply reserved for an apostle, or a gifted servant, but for “all them also that love His appearing”. We may think that the crown of righteousness is reserved for great activity in the Lord's work, or only for those who are in the forefront as leaders of God's people; but the word does not say the crown is for those who work, or for those who are prominent, but for those that love His appearing. Truly, the great theme of this portion of the Epistle is to encourage the servant to work; but let him be careful that his work is governed by love. Loving His appearing implies that we love the One who is going to appear and, loving Him, we love to think of the day when the One, who is now rejected and despised of men, will “come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.” Moreover, to love His appearing supposes that we are walking in self-judgment, for we read, “Every man that hath this hope in Him” - the hope of being like Christ when He appears - “purifieth himself, even as He is pure” ( 1Jn_3:3 ).
In the closing verses of the Epistle we have a beautiful picture of the graces of Christ, the Christian affections and the interests of the Lord that bind individual saints together; precious at any time, but how much more so in a day of weakness and failure when they that fear the Lord speak often one to the other.
(V. 9). Already Paul has expressed his desire to see Timothy, his dearly beloved ( 2Ti_1:4 ); now, in view of his speedy release, he urges Timothy to come quickly.
(Vv. 10, 11). He longed to see Timothy all the more because he had suffered the loss of a fellow-labourer. Demas had forsaken the apostle, having loved this present world. It does not say that Demas had forsaken Christ, but he found it impossible to go on with such a devoted representative of Christ and at the same time keep in with the present world. One or the other had to be given up. Alas! he forsook Paul and chose the world. Others had departed, doubtless on the service of the Lord. Only Luke was with him. This faithful companion of his active labours abode with him in his dying moments, and the apostle delights to record his devoted love.
Paul especially desires that Timothy should bring Mark. There had been a time when Mark had turned back from the work and the apostle, on that account, faithfully refused to take him on his second journey on the Lord's service. He judged it would not be profitable. This failure on the part of Mark had evidently been judged, and therefore all feeling removed, and no further allusion to the failure is made. If this were the only reference to Mark, we never should have known of any failure in service. Already Paul had specially commended him to the Colossian assembly ( Col_4:10 ); now he desires his presence, and especially notices that, in the very matter in which he had failed, this restored servant would be most serviceable, for, says the apostle, “He is profitable to me for the ministry.”
(V. 12). Tychicus, who apparently had formerly been sent by the apostle to Crete ( Tit_3:12 ) was now sent to Ephesus. He was one who was willing to serve under the direction of Christ's servant.
(V. 13). The natural man might wonder that, in this important pastoral charge, the apostle should stop to speak of a cloak and of books. We forget that the God who has provided for our eternal blessing is not unmindful of our smallest temporal needs. The cloak we wear and the books we read are not matters of indifference to Him. In our folly we may think such things beneath His notice; so thinking, these very things - the dress we wear, the books we read - often become our greatest snares.
(Vv. 14, 15). Alexander is referred to, not as a teacher of error, as in the case of Hymen'e6us, nor as loving this present world like Demas. He is rather an active personal enemy of the apostle, and, being actuated by personal enmity, it mattered not what Paul said, Alexander withstood his words. Such people existed in the apostle's day, and there are such, alas, still found in the Christian profession, who resist what is said, not because it is wrong, but because of enmity to the person who speaks. Conscious of the unrighteousness of such people, we can easily be thrown off our guard and meet the flesh by acting in the flesh. The Lord's servant does not render to such an one evil for evil, or railing for railing. He does not say, “I will attempt to deal with him according to his works”; he commits the whole matter to the Lord, and can therefore say, “The Lord will render to him according to his works.” Nevertheless, he warns Timothy to be on his guard against him. Alas! that there should be those in the Christian profession against whom it is necessary to warn the saints.
(V. 16). The apostle found in his day, as so many have found since, that the path narrows as we near the goal. Thus when arraigned before the powers of this world, he has to say, “No man stood with me, but all men forsook me.” This treatment, which appears to heartless and cowardly, raises no resentment in Paul's heart. On the contrary, it calls forth his prayer for them “that it may not be laid to their charge.”
(V. 17). If all others fail and forsake us, the Lord's words will ever remain true, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” So Paul found, in the day of his desertion by the saints, that the Lord stood with Him and gave him “power”. If, however, the Lord gives power, it is not power to crush our enemies, or power to deliver ourselves from trying circumstances, but spiritual power to bear witness for Himself in the presence of His enemies. So the apostle can say, “The Lord stood with me, and gave me power, that through me the proclamation might be fully made, and all those of the nations should hear.” From the records of Paul's preaching we know that the proclamation was the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins “through this Man” - Christ Jesus, the risen Man in the glory ( Act_13:38 ). If Paul had power given to him to proclaim Christ, the Lord Himself exercised His power to deliver His servant from the immediate danger. So he can say, not, “I delivered myself”, but, “I was delivered out of the lion's mouth.”
(V. 18). Moreover, the apostle can look on with confidence and say, “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom.” As the Psalmist can say, “The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil; he shall preserve thy soul” ( Psa_121:7 ). The heavenly kingdom may indeed be reached through a martyr's death, but the soul will be preserved through every evil.
With this heavenly kingdom in view, God's faithful servant can close his Epistle with a burst of praise to the One who, in spite of all desertion by saints, the power of the lion and every evil work, will preserve His people unto His Kingdom - “to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
(V. 19). Paul adds a closing salutation to two saints, Priscilla and Aquila, who had been associated with him in his early labours and had remained faithful to him in his closing days ( Act_18:2 ). Again, too, he thinks of the household of one that was not ashamed of his chain ( 2Ti_1:16-18 ).
(V. 20). With the interest that we cannot but take in the movements, labours and welfare of faithful servants of the Lord, Paul, in his day, records the fact that “Erastus abode at Corinth” and that Trophimus had been left at Miletum sick. Apparently the miraculous power of healing which, in the course of his testimony, had been so strikingly used by the apostle, was never used for the relief of a brother or a friend. As one has said, “Miracles as a rule were signs for unbelievers, not a means for cure for the household of faith.”
(V. 21). No detail that concerns His children is too small for the consideration of our God and Father. Already Paul has referred to the cloak and the books; now he thinks of the season. Timothy is to endeavour to come before the winter would add to the hardships of his journey.
Three brothers and a sister are mentioned by name as sending greetings to Timothy together with “all the brethren”, a proof not only of the love and esteem in which Timothy was held, but of the apostle's care to promote love amongst the saints.
(V. 22). Very beautifully Paul closes the Epistle to Timothy with the desire that the Lord Jesus Christ may be with his spirit. How often we may be right in doctrine and principle, and even outward conduct, and yet all be marred by being wrong in spirit. If the Lord Jesus is with us in spirit, we shall exhibit in our words and ways “the spirit of Jesus Christ” ( Php_1:19 ). For this, Timothy and the saints with him needed grace; so the apostle closes his Epistle with the desire, “Grace be with you.”
May we, too, in these more difficult times know how to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, that our spirits may be kept in the presence of every effort of the enemy to mar our testimony by arousing the flesh. We need unyielding faithfulness in the maintenance of the truth, combined with the gentleness of Christ, lest even the way of truth be evil spoken of.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 4". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34