Chapter 3 Service and Rewards
2 Timothy 2:1-13
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. (vv. 1-13)
Many have noticed long since that in this second chapter the believer is presented in seven distinct aspects, and we shall eventually have opportunity, I trust, to look at each one of these. But in this section before us we see him in four aspects: a son in verse 1; a soldier in verse 3; an athlete in verse 5, and a husbandman in verse 6. As we go on through the chapter we find him presented as a workman in verse 15, a vessel to the glory of God in verse 21, and a servant of the Lord in verse 24. In all these different characters the believer is called upon to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in this scene.
In this first section the subject particularly dealt with is the question of service and rewards. “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul speaks of Timothy as his son, because it was through his preaching that Timothy was brought to know the Lord. So Paul was pleased to think of Timothy as his own child in the faith.
Now every believer is a child of God. We are not children of God by natural birth. I know there is a teaching abroad that all men are God’s children. All men are God’s creatures. He is the Creator of them all. But only those who are born again are spoken of as children of God, and they alone are entitled to look up into the face of God and say, “Our Father.”
I trust that we all know the reality of this; that everyone of us can look back to a time when, through infinite grace, we trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and so began the walk of faith. “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Grace is God’s favor bestowed upon those who have no merit of their own. We are saved by grace, stand in grace, and are to walk in grace.
In verse 2 the Apostle instructs Timothy to pass on to others the things that had become most precious to him. We may all take this to heart. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Paul had instructed Timothy as to the great historic facts of Christianity and the doctrines based upon them. These had been attested by many witnesses. It became the responsibility of the younger preacher to make these things known to others, that the truth might be spread far and wide. This is the true apostolic succession, as distinguished from a sacerdotal system such as Rome and some others advocate.
All down through the history of the church this is the way God’s truth has been made known. One generation receives the truth, is led to believe in the Lord Jesus, that generation passes the Word of truth on to the next generation, and so it has been through the centuries. And upon us rests this same responsibility. That which we have received is not for ourselves alone. As God has opened up precious truths in His Holy Word, it is not simply for our own enjoyment. But our responsibility is to pass on to others that which means so much to us, to bring others into the same blessed fellowship of the truth of God. This will often take a great deal of self-denial. The path of witnessing for Christ may be a very hard one. God has never promised His children an easy time in the world. Our Lord Himself said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
So Timothy is commanded in verse 3 to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Each Christian is called to do valiant soldier service, contending earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). This figure is frequently used in the Epistles. Note especially 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:8, as well as here. The Christian life is a constant warfare. We have three subtle and cruel enemies ever arrayed against us-the world, the flesh, and the Devil-and against all these we are called to make a resolute stand. We do not fight in our own strength, but as we are empowered by Him whose soldiers we are.
So we find Paul, with zeal unquenched, urging upon the younger preacher, Timothy, that he persist relentlessly in the battle for righteousness against all the hosts of evil. He, himself, maintains this soldier character to the last, as he realized that his fighting days were nearly ended and that soon he should give account of his part in this warfare, when he would stand at the judgment seat of Christ to receive the crown of righteousness, the divine recognition of faithful service, as he looked on to the appearing of his great General who had fought and overcome on his behalf so long before.
The figure of the soldier suggests obedience to orders, rigid discipline, holding the body in subjection, and valor in defense of the truth. These things should characterize all Christ’s servants. The path of devotion to Christ is not an easy way. It calls for steadfast endurance and abiding faith. These are soldier qualities every Christian needs in order that he may overcome in the warfare with iniquity.
Then again a true soldier must be separated from the affairs of this world. “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” He has to leave many things to which he has been accustomed. So you and I who were poor, godless worldlings have now been separated to the Lord and are called to walk apart from the world in devotion to the great Captain of our salvation.
In verse 5 the believer is looked upon as an athlete, as a man striving for mastery: “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” A more accurate or literal rendering is, “If a man contend in the games, yet is he not crowned if he have not observed the rules.” One would gather as he reads these Epistles that Paul in his youth must have had a keen interest in athletics, for he gives so many illustrations from the athletic games, such as racing and wrestling contests. He applies these to the life of a Christian.
It is a well-known principle in athletics that a man who enters a contest will not receive the reward unless he observes the rules of the game. Many years ago when I was laboring among the Laguna Indians in the southwest, I went into a store one Saturday night and found my Indian interpreter standing on a chair reading from a newspaper. The store was filled with Indians, and he was translating what he read into their language. The newspaper contained an account of the Olympic games that had been celebrated that year in Stockholm, Sweden. The man who had won most of the prizes was a full-blooded Indian, known as Jimmy Thorpe. How thrilled these Indians were as my interpreter was reading and telling all about his victories. He told them how at the time when the gold medals and other trophies were being conferred, the King of Sweden himself decorated Jiminy Thorpe, and taking him by the hand before all the people, he said, “You are to be congratulated. You are the greatest amateur athlete in the world today.” Those Indians were most enthusiastic as they heard that one of their own people had won out over so many other athletes.
I went into that same store some weeks afterward. Again the place was filled with Indians, and my interpreter was reading to them. But the result was not the same. There were no bright, happy faces. I wondered what had made the change. I learned that some white men in this country had been so indignant that an Indian had carried off so many prizes that they had been searching into the Indian’s past. They found out that one summer while attending Carlyle School in Pennsylvania he had served on a baseball team for $5.00 a week. That information was sent to the committee, who referred it to the King of Sweden. The result was that the king had to write Jimmy Thorpe to send back all the medals and trophies because he was not entitled to them. The athletic games, the king said, were for amateurs and not for professionals. Jimmy had taken money for playing ball and so was a professional. Poor Jimmy sent a letter to the King of Sweden, saying, “I am only a poor, ignorant Indian, and I did not know that the fact I had accepted $5.00 a week one summer for playing on a baseball team had made me a professional. I didn’t mean to deceive.” He sent back all his honors.
As these Indians listened to this account, they were stirred deeply. They could not understand the white man’s way. But no athlete is entitled to reward if he has not observed the rules.
As Christians we are here wrestling with the powers of evil, and we are to be rewarded only if we observe the rules. The rules are contained in the Word of God. We must conform our behavior to the Word if we are to be rewarded.
In verse 6 the believer is referred to as a farmer. Husbandman is the old-fashioned English word for a tiller of the soil. First we read, “The husbandman that laboreth must be first partaker of the fruits.” More literally, we might read, “The farmer that laboureth first becomes partaker of the fruits.” The farmer has his work to do: his plowing, sowing, harrowing, and reaping before he can enjoy his fruit. We are here to labor. Oh, what a day it will be when at last we come before our Lord at the judgment seat of Christ and become partakers of the fruit! How much it will mean to any of us who have had the privilege of winning souls for Christ, to stand at that judgment seat with those whom we have brought to Him, and say, “Behold I and the children whom Thou hast given me!” How sweet His “Well done” will sound to these ears of ours in that day of reward!
Paul adds, “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.” If we are going to labor faithfully for Christ, we must have Christ before us.
“Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.” “ Remember…Jesus Christ. “It is really a battle cry-as of late we often hear the slogan, “Remember Bataan.” The word that is omitted from the Revised Version. When pressed by the foe, even to the point where one despairs of life, let us remember Him who could not be overcome by death but arose in triumph from the grave. It is He who beckons us on to ultimate victory. His promises never fail of fulfillment. Jesus Christ went down into death, bore the judgment our sins deserved in order that we might be saved, and then came up in triumph from death as the Captain of our salvation. And for His sake, says the Apostle, “I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.”
As we have seen previously, Paul wrote this letter in a Roman dungeon. Though he was imprisoned as a malefactor, he had a conscience void of offense toward God and man because he was there for the gospel’s sake. He said, “I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” The elect are those who receive Christ, those who put their trust in Him, who rest their souls for eternity upon Jesus Christ who died for sinners.
The last three verses of this section are considered by scholars generally as a little poem or hymn, probably sung in the early Christian assemblies. It is written in metrical form, and therefore might have been so used.
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself, (vv. 11-13)
What words are these, “We have died with him!” Those of us who have taken Him as Savior are seen by God as identified with Him in His death. We have a right to say, as Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). We died with Him, so we also live with Him. And if we suffer with Him, we shall share His glory. We shall reign with Him when He comes again. All believers suffer with Him, but all do not suffer for Him to the same extent.
On the other hand, if we who have professed to be Christians turn away from Him and deny His name and prove our unreality, then He will deny us. He said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9). “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
It is a challenge to reality. Mere profession does not save. We need to receive Christ and trust Him with all the heart, and then we shall boldly confess His name. If we believe not, yet He remains true. He can never go back on His word. Our unbelief cannot change His plan or purpose, nor alter His truth-He cannot deny Himself. He must be faithful to His own character.
Unless we distinguish carefully between salvation by pure grace and service or discipleship, for which a sure reward is promised, we are likely to become confused when considering such a portion as this. We are not called to fight our way to heaven. But as already bound for that blessed country, we are called to be soldiers in our Lord’s army, contending against every unholy thing that would impede our progress or bring dishonor upon our Savior’s name. For all such service we shall be rewarded “in that day,” that is, when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Our conflict in this age of grace is not, as Israel’s was in the past, with adversaries of flesh and blood. We do not draw the sword to destroy the opponents of our Lord and His gospel. But we fight with the sword of the Spirit against spiritual powers of evil-the unholy forces that would, if they could, nullify our testimony by leading us into things that bring dishonor upon the name of Him whose we are and whom we serve (Acts 27:23).
Chapter 4 Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
2 Timothy 2:14-18
Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (vv. 14-18)
We noticed that in this second chapter the believer is presented in seven distinct aspects. We have considered him already as a son, a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. Now we come to consider him as a workman or an artisan, a laborer in this scene to the glory of God.
Referring to what he has already brought to our attention, the Apostle says in verse 14, “Of these things put them in remembrance.” That is, of the importance of being wholeheartedly out for God as a soldier; of the necessity of remembering that an athlete contending in the games does not receive the victors reward unless he observes the rules, and, therefore, of the importance of going by the Word of God, for this is our Book of rules.
If we are to be partakers of the fruit, there must be labor first. Even as a farmer must plow, sow, and cultivate the ground before he can expect a crop, so if we are to receive a reward at the judgment seat of Christ we must labor faithfully and devotedly now.
Then we do not want to forget that our Lord Jesus Christ died for us and has been raised again by the power of God. We do not want to forget that this message of the gospel is ours to proclaim to lost ones, no matter what is entailed in that, no matter whether there be suffering or imprisonment. For Paul it did mean imprisonment and death. But we are to remember, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us.” All these things are to be kept in remembrance as we go on in the service of the Lord.
Then notice this special command, “Charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” It is so easy to become occupied with minor details in regard to the Christian message, which, after all, have nothing to do with the great fundamental issues. How many there are who become occupied with some of these side issues, stressing them on every occasion, and even dividing the people of God because of them, instead of placing the emphasis on the great central truths of the Word that are so tremendously important. We are not really serving the Lord when we are striving with one another about things that are unprofitable. We are called to contend for the faith, not to become contentious. As a rule, it is these minor things that lead to contention when they are emphasized out of all proportion to their relative importance.
On the other hand, the Christian needs to give himself to a careful study of the Scriptures in order that he may understand the truth and use it aright, as we get it in verse 15: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Paul himself says elsewhere that he was not at all concerned about having man’s approval. In writing to the Corinthians he says, “With me it is a small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment” (1 Corinthians 4:3). It made little difference to him whether men approved or blamed, but he was greatly concerned to have the approval of the Lord. And this is what he stresses here for us-that we need to study the Word so that we may be pleasing to Him who called us by His grace, who, has saved us in His infinite, loving-kindness, and has left us in this scene that we may glorify Him.
In the Old Testament we read of Abraham’s first son-that son, Ishmael, who was born of Hagar. You remember that all that was contrary to the mind of God. Abraham began to wonder if God was going to fulfill His promise in regard to Isaac who was to be born of Sarah. Instead of blessing coming to the household, there was trouble. Instead of Ishmael being a joy to Abraham and to Sarah, he was the very opposite. We read of Ishmael that he “shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (Genesis 16:12). Then long years afterward the time came for him to leave this life, and we are told, “He died in the presence of all his brethren” (Genesis 25:18). Ishmael was a man, as far as we have any record, who was never, in all his life, in the presence of God but lived in the presence of his brethren. He was one whom the world would admire. He was a man of the great open spaces, a daring warrior and a great hunter. He had all the characteristics that men like to see in one another, and so he had the approval of his brethren. But he did not have the approval of God.
It is quite possible for a man, even in the work of the Lord, to be approved by his brethren and not have the approval of God. And so the importance of heeding these words, “Study to show thyself approved unto God.” For not he who commends himself, nor whom his brethren commend is necessarily thus approved, but he whom the Lord commends. He whom God approves is the man who makes much of this blessed Book, who studies it and seeks to live in the power of the truth herein revealed. David prayed, “Order my steps in thy word” (Psalms 119:133). God has given us His Word, not only that it should unfold wonderful and precious things to us concerning the great, eternal future, but that through it we may learn how God would have us live as we go through this scene.
The Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). As we meditate on the Word and let it direct our lives, we will be sanctified in this practical sense. Oh, the neglected Bibles in the homes of the people of God! Wherever you find a neglected Bible you will also find a fruitless life. You will find a life out of fellowship with God. There will be nothing in that life that really honors Him. But where you find that the Word of Christ dwells richly in the heart and mind of a believer, then God will be glorified. So we are to study to show ourselves approved unto God.
Studying the Bible means more than just reading it casually. It means giving it our careful attention, comparing one Scripture with another, weighing the words in every chapter and every verse. But even as we read the verses and meditate upon them, we should avail ourselves of every possible help that might open things up to us more clearly, making it the business of our lives to become more familiar with the Holy Scriptures. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We are to avoid slipshod work or carelessness in our consideration of the Word. We are not to put our own ideas in the place of the Word. If you were building a house and hired a man to do the work for you, you would hand him the blueprints and instruct him to go by them. Suppose he were to go ahead and work according to his own desires and his own ideas. You would soon discharge him. He might attempt to argue with you and to insist that his ways were better than yours, but you would say, “This is not what I wanted.”
“I know it isn’t according to the blueprint,” he might reply,; “but I thought it would be very much nicer this way.”
You would say, “But I do not care what you thought. I engaged you to build this house according to the plans I gave you.”
So it is when we are working for the Lord. Many of us are very, very busy in what we call Christian service, but we are not working in accordance with the Word. And someday we will stand ashamed before God because of the wasted years that we have spent following our own ideas instead of being guided by His instruction. But if we are to be thus guided we must know the Word and be able to use it aright: “A workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Other translators have suggested different renderings for “rightly dividing the word of truth.” J. N. Darby’s version reads, “Cutting in a straight line the word of truth.” That, I think, is very suggestive. You see, the Bible does not deal with one great subject only, neither does it speak to just one class of people. So as we study the Word, it is always important to ask, as we read, For whom was this written? What did God have in mind in giving it? Is it for me? Is it about me, or does it have to do with some other group of His people?
In 1 Corinthians we find three definite groups brought before us to whom God has spoken in His Word: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32). To rightly divide the word of truth we need to consider what parts of the Word are written particularly to God’s earthly people, the Jews-what parts have to do with the Gentile nations as such, and what parts are particularly intended for the guidance and direction of the church. There are these three classes of people in the world today
There was a time when there were only two. Before Pentecost there were two classes-Jews and Gentiles. Since Pentecost, since the Holy Spirit descended, we have three groups in the world. The third group is known as the church of God. And this blessed Book has a great deal in it that is addressed particularly to the church of God. Now all Scripture is for me, but all Scripture is not about me… The Old Testament Scripture is for me just as truly as the New Testament, but I will look in vain for guidance as to my path through this world, for instance, in the book of Leviticus or in the book of Chronicles and some other Old Testament books. Yet all are part of God’s Word, and are profitable, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). But we have to learn to rightly divide the Word and see to whom God was speaking and why. Then we will be able to see what is for our instruction as we seek to do what He commands.
These distinctions are not the only ones to be considered when we attempt to rightly divide the Word of truth. There are many other lines of truth. For instance, there is that which has to do with our salvation, which is by the grace of God and to which no works of ours can be added. But it would be a great mistake if we neglected a kindred line of truth which has to do with our responsibility as children of God in this world. On the other hand, we have Scripture passages that deal with our justification, which depends entirely upon the finished work of the Lord Jesus. I cannot be saved by works of righteousness which I have done. Yet there are other Scripture passages that lay tremendous stress upon good works which should follow faith in Christ, and they show me that only as we engage in good works can we expect reward at the judgment seat of Christ.
Before He went away Jesus said He was going to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who would operate in a different way from which He had ever done before. The Savior said, “He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit was with the people of God before the flood. We read, “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). Noah was a preacher of righteousness for 120 years while he was building the ark. The Spirit of Christ was preaching in him, as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:20. And God said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3). It was the Spirit after the flood that guided the patriarchs and directed them. It was the Spirit of the Lord in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night that led Israel through the wilderness. It was He who spoke in the prophets. And when Jesus was here on earth we read that the Spirit was given to Him without measure.
Thus He was with the apostles. They had wonderful privileges such as no other children of God ever had-the presence of the Spirit was with them in the Person of the Christ of God Himself, “for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34). Jesus said, “He dwelleth with you,” and then looking forward to the new dispensation, He added, “and [He] shall be in you” (John 14:17). This is the great truth in our present age. If you are born of God, if you are a Christian, then the Holy Spirit dwells in you. What a wonderful thing it is to know that the Spirit of God is moving about through this world in you and in me. This divine Person is dwelling in us! “Know ye not,” says the Apostle, “that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Oh, how careful we ought to be then as to our behavior when we realize that the Spirit of God, this heavenly Guest, dwells in our very bodies-those of us who have trusted the Lord Jesus as our Savior. We need to cut in straight lines the Word of truth regarding the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.
We also need to learn how to distinguish between salvation by grace and reward for service. We cannot lose our salvation, but we are ever in grave danger of losing the reward that the Lord will give to all those who are faithful to Him.
There are many other lines of truth that we ought to understand clearly in order to be workmen that need not to be ashamed, cutting in straight lines the Word of truth.
“But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” This word babblings means “baby talk.” Men may have great learning who are just given to babblings in spiritual matters. Take the great philosophers. What is a philosopher? A man who is trying to find out the mystery of the universe. And here is a Book that will tell him all about it, but he turns his back on that which God has revealed and tries to find things out for himself. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22). The mature Christian is instructed out of the Word of God. He is not misled by these babblings. People say sometimes, “I don’t think it makes any difference what a man believes if he is only sincere.” But you know down in your heart that this is not true.
You might drink poison, sincerely believing that it is pure water, but it would kill just the same as if you knew its nature and took it with intent to commit suicide. No, you do not believe it makes no difference what one believes so long as he is sincere. You know in your own heart that one can be sincerely wrong and bring disaster upon himself and others. What we need to be sure of is that God has spoken in His Word. It is only the Word that will keep us right. When we turn from the Word to human theories, which are just profane and vain babblings, they will increase unto more ungodliness. Experience proves that no man’s life will be in the right who refuses the truth of the Word.
We must know the truth of God in order to walk in the truth. The Apostle here instances two men who failed in this-two men who went off into error and misled others. He says, “And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”
“And their word will eat as doth a canker”-like a cancerous growth in the body, it will get worse. Here are two men who had evidently been fellow laborers to some extent with the apostle Paul. At any rate, they had been recognized as Christian preachers and teachers, but they drifted from the truth. They turned away from God’s revealed Word and took up with vain speculation, saying, “The resurrection is past already.” And with this false teaching they overthrew the faith of some. It might seem a small thing as to whether the resurrection has passed or not, but it is a tremendous thing. If they were right, then our hope in Christ would go for nothing.
God grant that you and I who profess subjection to Christ may give increased attention to this Book so that our Bibles may not be neglected but read faithfully in dependence upon the Sprit of God, as He opens up the truth to us that we may walk in the power of it.
Chapter 5 Separation and Service
2 Timothy 2:19-26
Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master s use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. (vv. 19-26)
In our consideration of the earlier verses of this chapter we have seen the believer presented in five different aspects: as son, soldier, athlete, husbandman (or farmer), and workman or artisan. And now in these closing verses we come to consider him in two more characters: first, as a vessel for the display of the glory of God; and, second, as the servant of the Lord.
All that we have here is in view of declension and corruption coming into the professing church. It had begun already and, as we have seen, Hymenaeus and Philetus were misleading many. There is something rather interesting about their very names, which suggest that these men were of agreeable and pleasant character, and yet they were using their natural charm to mislead God’s people. Hymenaeus is really the “singing” man; the word means “a wedding song.” Philetus is the “kissing” man; the name means “a lover.” The two would make quite a combination! These two false teachers were seeking to mislead the churches.
You can never be sure about a man just because he has a nice, attractive personality. Satan’s ministers, like Satan himself, can appear in very persuasive roles. And so the Apostle tells us to be on our guard. No matter how much false teaching may come in, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure.” Our blessed Lord said to Peter, “Upon this rock [Christ the Son of the living God] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). All the power of the enemy has been brought against the church of God down through the centuries, but the church abides and will abide until the Lord comes again. “Having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” We may not know for certain, but it is not for us to judge.
We are responsible, though, to walk in the truth and depart from error. “And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ [or, of the Lord] depart from iniquity.” Separation from known evil is mandatory. We are commanded to depart from iniquity, or lawlessness, to depart from self-will, and this includes all forms of ungodliness and worldliness. “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from [lawlessness],” depart from having his own way. This will settle many questions for young Christians. So many young Christians say, “Is it wrong to do this? Is it wrong to do that?” That is hardly the question for you as a Christian to ask. Rather, one should inquire, “Is this something that is profitable? Is it something that will help to make my Lord more precious to me? Will it draw me closer to Him?” Every Christian should have the desire to please the Lord Jesus Christ. True Christian living is subjection to His will.
In the next verse the Apostle uses a little parable. He says, “In a great house [that is, a house of a wealthy person, a mansion] there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.” As you enter such a great house you may see on the sideboard in the dining room beautiful silver, golden, or cut-glass goblets, and other vessels, while out in the kitchen and in the cellar there will be earthenware vessels and vessels of baser metal. “Some to honour, and some to dishonour.” The vessels unto honor are for the pleasure of the family and are used for the refreshment of their guests. These vessels are displayed openly where all may see them. They must be kept clean and bright, and after each using they must be separated from the other vessels of less value.
“If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour.” Every Christian should be a vessel for the display of God’s glory in this scene-a vessel unto honor. But in order that this might be, we need to be clean, not only clean ourselves but also clean as to our associations. We are to purge ourselves by separating from evil associates and from everything unholy in our lives. Thus we shall be vessels “unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
Let me try to illustrate this. Suppose we are in a great house. The host has brought some friends home, and he desires to refresh them. So he goes into the dining room and looks for some beautiful goblets, but there are none. He calls a servant and asks where the goblets are-the silver goblets, or the cut glass, whatsoever they may be. The servant replies, “Why, there was a banquet here last night, and all the vessels are out in the kitchen to be cleaned.” The host directs him to go out and clean them and bring them to him so that his guests may be served. The servant has to separate these valuable vessels from all the mixture that is out there in the kitchen sink. Every piece has to be purged, individually cleansed, and so made fit for use. Then he brings them in and presents them to the host, who takes the vessels and uses them unto honor.
You see, Christians are like those vessels. There is a sad mixed condition in Christendom today, saved and unsaved, often united in the same church fellowship. There are those who profess to know the Lord and those who have never confessed Him, and people wonder why there is so little power and blessing. If you want to please the Lord who has made you His own, you must separate yourself from all that is unclean. Then you will be “a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
Paul adds, “Flee also youthful lusts.” Youth is the time when natural desires predominate, when carnality and concupiscence are very manifest. We are to flee these things. We are not to allow them to have dominion over us. On the contrary, we are to “follow righteousness, faith, [love], peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” We are to be separated from those who are unclean, and to fellowship with those who walk before God in righteousness and holiness of life.
In the next place we are warned against occupation with trivial matters. He says, “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” After we have taken our stand for God, after we come out from the world or from some worldly church where the truth is no longer preached, it is so easy to be self-satisfied and occupied with minor questions, and thus lose the sweetness and attractiveness that should characterize one who is separated to the Lord Himself.
In the next verse we have the seventh aspect in which the believer is presented in this chapter. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.” It is difficult sometimes to be faithful to the truth without becoming quarrelsome. We are called upon to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). We are not to be contentious or querulous, manifesting a bad spirit about right things, but we are to be characterized by the spirit of grace even as we stand firmly for the Word of God. “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” The man who opposes the truth is working harm to himself. We need to remember this. It will make us kind and considerate as we seek to recover them from error, “if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” Some who were the bitterest enemies of the gospel have been won for Christ by faithful dealing. “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”
This second chapter of 2 Timothy has a very important message for us in these times of declension, when corruption and false doctrines abound on every hand. It is a time when believers in the Lord Jesus Christ need to be more careful about their contact with things that defile the Spirit. We need to take to heart these words, and separate ourselves from everything unclean and everything unholy. We need to yield ourselves entirely to the Lord to be guided and directed by Him that we may be vessels unto honor. Let us so manifest Christ in our lives that we will make the truth attractive to those who do not know Him. Sometimes we do harm to the very cause for which we stand because of the harsh and unkind spirit that dominates us. It took a long time for many of us to see some of these things, and, therefore, we should be patient and sympathetic in dealing with others who have not yet understood them.
In writing to the Philippians, the Apostle says, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (3:15-16).
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 2". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany