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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
2 Timothy 2

 

 

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Verses 1-26

If in chapter 1 we have seen the blessedness of God's abiding presence in His beloved saints - whatever may be the human failure everywhere - now in chapter 2, verses 1 to 13, there is a resulting conflict that requires the reality and energy of faith by which to overcome.

In his being addressed as "child" the fresh reality of new birth is emphasized, and the sweetness of filial relationship; but it is all the more reason that Timothy should be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. There is no brute strength here, but strength the fruit of pure grace known and enjoyed in the soul. The zeal of law-keeping gives nothing of this, but the submission of faith that drinks in the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

He is given too the serious, though precious responsibility of communicating the truth learned from Paul, to "faithful men." It would be of little value to commit these things to those who merely have "itching ears." Nor in fact is it "educated" or "ordained" men mentioned here, but "faithful men." This is the true means by which the truth of God is perpetuated in the world. Human wisdom or dignified position cannot sustain a true witness for God: there must be faithfulness in obeying the truth, if one is rightly to "teach others also."

How important to notice here that nothing is said of the soldier's ability to fight. In fact, fighting only occupies a very small percentage of his time, and in some cases a soldier never does see a battle. But his training is generally intensive and rigorous. He must learn to endure all kinds of discomfort, sleeping outside and in every kind of weather, long rugged route marches, the ill-temper of his fellow-soldiers, unpalatable food, etc. If we find this in the true testimony of God, let us be willing to take our share in suffering, whenever it may arise, and continue steadily on. The soldier does not enjoy all the comforts of normal, easy living. He is enlisted for a serious purpose, and primarily to please his commander. To entangle himself with the common affairs of life would not be permitted: it is contrary to the character of a soldier and the work for which he is enlisted.

Whether a wrestler, or runner, or whatever athlete, he must obey the rules, or he is disqualified. So for the child of God: it is not enough to be on the right side: the Lord will allow no reward for any accomplishment that is not in true moral accord with His own blessed nature and His Word. This we must apply to ourselves in serious self-discipline.

Another character in which the believer is found is that of husbandman. Farming requires hard work, tilling the ground, planting, cultivating, while patiently waiting for the fruit to eventually mature. One cannot expect immediate results. What a lesson to quiet our own natural restlessness and impatience as to looking for results as quickly as possible! Let us labor on, steadily, consistently, according to the Word, and results will certainly come in due time. Patient, plodding continuance in well-doing will prove vastly more fruitful than great public campaigns that so impress crowds for the time being.

The significance of these things is of such vital importance as to call for serious consideration: it is not enough to acknowledge them as good doctrine: they are to be worked into the soul by meditation, in which one may have confidence that the Lord will give proper understanding.

Timothy is admonished to "remember Jesus Christ" - not simply to remember the fact of His resurrection - but to remember Him personally as raised from among the dead. In this is living power, the power of a Living Person, Conqueror of death. And He is of the seed of David, that is of one who was unfailingly raised to the throne of Israel after years of patient suffering, only indeed a faint type of his infinitely greater Son, in whom all the counsels of God are fulfilled, and whose kingdom and authority shall have no end. What power there is just in the remembrance of Himself!

This was the very cornerstone of Paul's gospel: he had not even known Christ in His earthly path: his gospel began with Christ raised from the dead. Israel's hatred of such teaching (common in all mankind, too) was vented in bitter persecution against this faithful servant, who suffered "trouble as an evil-doer, even unto bonds." But the truth is worth suffering for, nor is the Word of God bound, no matter how man may bend every effort to restrain it or to destroy it. Since in Rome Paul was considered the chief exponent of the Word of God, man no doubt supposed that in confining him, they would also confine the truth he proclaimed; but it went forth even from his prison; prisoners were converted by it, and even soldiers; and it spread abroad in every direction, and just as effectively as if it had been favorably used. How it proves to be sufficient of itself, without the support of the servant: indeed it is itself the support of the servant.

The long-range vision of the apostle is precious to consider: in view of the eternal results, valuable beyond all human computation, he would willingly "endure all things for the elect's sakes." No doubt his prime motive was for the eternal glory of God; but this vitally involves the blessing of the beloved saints of God, the body of Christ; and real affection for the Lord will surely express itself in love toward those whom He loves. Paul therefore "filled up that which was behind of the sufferings of Christ, for His body's sake, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24).

If one were to object that the elect would obtain this salvation anyway, apart from Paul or anyone else, this is neither honest faith, nor true love for souls. For faith is gladly obedient to the call of God, and love will spend itself in self-sacrifice for the sake of its objects. God chooses to use His willing servants in accomplishing the ends He has purposed, and it is our wisdom to be willing and obedient. If we are not, He can of course still use others. To apply the principle of death to ourselves, as identified with the death of Christ, is of real importance here. Having died with Him, we shall live with Him. Let us therefore apply this truth, and be willing to suffer with Him in view of eventually reigning with Him. For our denial of Him would mean His denial of us. Israel denied the Holy One and the Just (Acts 3:14), and the nation has been denied by Him ever since; and will be until they eventually turn back to Him in confession. There is a practical analogy to this even in the case of one truly born of God. If in practice we deny Him, in that measure we shall be denied the blessing of communion with Himself, until there is honest restoration.

But this does not change His faithfulness. However unfaithful we may be, He abides faithful: He cannot deny Himself.

Much of Timothy's work consisted in putting souls in remembrance of what they had already learned: he was not told to bring out new or original things, a specially important consideration for the last days, when the danger of striving about words increases, with its emptiness as regards spiritual profit. Saints must be charged not to stoop to this. Its effect is to turn souls aside from the truth.

Verse 15 is the positive antidote for the evils warned against in the verses preceding and following. Studying requires applied concentration. Yet let us carefully note it is not here with the object of gaining knowledge, but of showing oneself approved by God. To know and act upon the Word of God is the vital matter here. But one must be most diligent to discern the true application of what he reads, drawing the lines where Scripture does. Differing dispensations must be distinguished: the particular character of each book should be understood, and the way in which it relates to other books. This will take time, patience, selfjudgment, and lowly consideration, together with plodding, consistent work. But we need it if we are not to be ashamed. It is always important, in considering any Scripture, to discern the prime object of each passage, and apply the details consistently with this object. God means something when He speaks, and it is His own thoughts about the passage that we should be concerned to know.

If Timothy is told to "shun profane and vain babblings," it is no less urgent for us, for these things are greatly multiplied today. "Profane" has the sense of being strictly secular, with no real reference to God, hence that which reduces things to a rationalistic, materialistic level. This is empty vanity, and drags souls into deeper ungodliness. Just the opposite of sound, solid truth, it will spread like a gangrene where it once gains a foothold. A pointed illustration of this is given in the case of two men, Hymenaeus and Philetus, leaders in such evil, who claimed that the resurrection had already taken place. This was evidently a subtle spiritualizing of a vital truth of God, and therefore taking away its entire value. Denial of a future literal resurrection is wickedness that the believer must not tolerate.

In Corinth the denial of the resurrection by some was a matter of grave concern to the apostle (1 Corinthians 15:12; 1 Corinthians 15:33-34). But 2 Timothy is written much later, with most of the New Testament having been written and Christianity established as the pure truth of God. Consequently, such denial is even more serious now, for it is a turning from the truth once delivered; and the believer must decidedly separate from this type of error. Though the names Hymenaeus and Philetus have lovely meanings ("a wedding song") and ("beloved") the men themselves possibly attractive, pleasant characters, yet their error must be absolutely refused. If the resurrection is past, then there is no more suffering for Christ and with Christ, no more testimony of the faith in an adverse world, no more warfare against the forces of evil. This false doctrine was designed to settle souls down at ease in the world: the faith of some was overthrown: they were robbed of their proper direct relationship with the Living God.

Verses 19 to 21 are most crucial in this chapter, and we cannot afford to lightly pass them by without suffering spiritual loss. The plain, strong force of the passage has inclined many to seek to avoid its impact by means of blunting its sharp edge. If it hurts, the truth is intended to do so if error is tolerated: it is a sword of two edges. But is not every Christian deeply grateful that "the foundation of God stands sure?" In 1 Corinthians 3:11 Jesus Christ is seen to be the only foundation. But verse 10 speaks of Paul's having laid the foundation. The sense of this is certainly found in his laying down the truth concerning the person and work of Christ, indeed all of that concerning Him which is the basis of all Christianity. Of course, all the truth of the Assembly is a vital part of this, because the Assembly is His own body. It seems clearly that it is of this foundation that Paul is speaking here, which stands firmly, unaffected by all the ravages of time and all the attacks of the enemy, and will allow nothing inconsistent with its pure character. It involves the entire range of revealed truth concerning the person of Christ, His work, His interests, His relationships in connection with the present dispensation; that is therefore, the whole New Testament revelation. This foundation stands firmly, whatever may be the proven failures of those professing to believe it, and however violent have been the attacks against it from outside. It remains pure and uncorrupted, refusing all the human additions that attempt to attach themselves to it. Let the believer learn well what this foundation is, and both hold it in its entirety, and refuse all other.

The foundation has a seal with two sides, first, that of the sovereign knowledge of the Lord, and secondly that of man's responsibility. We are intended to give due and full regard to both of these. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." In the early days of Christianity, spiritual power in the assembly on the one hand, and open persecution on the other, tended to clearly manifest who were Christians and who were not: those who were saints were generally clearly marked. But today the ease and affluence of the professing Church has allowed for the entrance of many corruptions, and confusion is the practical hallmark of that which claims allegiance to "the name of the Lord." Still, it remains a precious comfort that "the Lord knoweth them that are his." This is not therefore at all the question we are called upon to judge in regard to our departing from iniquity. We are not asked to decide whether others are the Lord's in connection with this matter. But the seal for us is very definite: if one names the name of the Lord, he is thereby responsible to depart from unrighteousness; whatever others may do, or whoever they may be. Let the individual recognize and act upon that which is clearly his personal responsibility. And in this case, he is not told to simply abstain from iniquity, but to depart from it, which means a separation in some very real sense.

If questions remain as to it, this is further explained in reference to "a great house." This embraces all that claims to be Christian, but is sadly far departed from the pure simplicity of "the house of God" as in 1 Timothy 3:15. What began as the house of God has degenerated into this condition today. True believers are of course still in this house by the very fact of their profession; but as well as the true and godly (gold and silver vessels), there are also now vessels of wood and of earth, unbecoming to the character of God's house: people and principles have entered in to corrupt and confuse that which was -once the testimony of God.

The believer is not told to leave the house: indeed there are vessels to honor in the house, and these are those whose conduct gives honor to God (observe here the meaning of Timothy's name - honoring God); while vessels to dishonor are those whose conduct tends to dishonor the God whose name they profess. The question is not whether they are saved, but whether they are honoring God.

Hymenaeus and Philetus were plainly vessels to dishonor, and this is certainly the case with any who introduce wicked doctrine or practice. From these the individual is called

upon to purge himself. It is not here a question of purging out the evil, as in 1 Corinthians 5:7, where it is an assembly responsibility; but of one purging himself from it. That is, where an assembly has refused its own responsibility to purge out wickedness, then the individual must separate himself, if he is to be "a vessel unto honor." This should be transparently clear to every soul who has the honor of God at heart.

The vessel in this way is "sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work." It is a practical sanctification from evil and to God, which fits the saint for the proper use of the Master. Others may be prepared to some goods works, but if not so separated, they cannot be prepared to "every good work." For instance, they could not in this case do the good work of leading souls in a true path of separation.

If, by purging himself in separating from vessels to dishonor, one has escaped the dangers of spiritual evil, he is not however to settle down with smug self-satisfaction; but is to flee youthful lusts, to exhibit a maturity consistent with his stand spiritually. If fleeing sounds negative, it is yet imperative that we put ourselves at a long distance from former self-indulgence. Then the positive following of that which is good is added: not an armchair type of mere approval of what is good, but an active energy that pursues righteousness first, an exercise always to have things consistent with truth. Then faith is the confidence of depending upon the Living God, an attitude again maintained only by exercise. Love is next added, for it must be consistent with the former two, but it is the active energy of genuine concern for the blessing of others. And peace is last, for while it cannot compromise any of the others, yet it is a blessed complement to them all, a proper and godly result of acting upon the former.

It is evident that these things cannot be practiced if one isolates himself. His separation in verse 21 is not to be isolation, but he is to follow these things "with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." In this way his sphere of fellowship is simply defined. It will not be large, as one could desire: it cannot be with all Christians, for all have not purged or purified themselves from the sad mixture. "Them that call on the Lord" are those whose hearts dependently cry out for Him and His faithful authority. But it is not said, "out of a sinless heart," for fellowship in this case would be impossible, but "out of a pure heart," that is, a heart unmixed, but with Christ as its single Object, not Christ and some favorite theories, or denomination, or enterprise; but Christ the one predominating Object of the heart. In days of corruption and of unholy mixture, how refreshing is that simplicity of heart that looks solely to the Lord Jesus, with steadfast purpose to honor Him, and not moved away by the many plausible activities which today so attract and excite the minds and emotions of men. This is the fellowship alone approved of God for the day in which we live: let us settle for no less.

It is humbling too that it is not said, "all that call on the Lord out of a pure heart," for it would be most doubtful that we could find them all, and we must not dare to suppose that since others are not gathered with us, therefore their hearts are not pure. This we must leave with God, while maintaining positively only what He directs.

"But foolish and unlearned (unsubject) questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive." The truth is too vital and precious to be made a subject of mere argument. Foolish questions are commonly an indicator of a heart not willing to be subject to the Word of God: these require no answer, but must be avoided, or will only lead to strife. At a time when divisions have sorely rent the testimony of God, and when genuine godliness is little esteemed, such questions are the more urged by those who would reduce the truth to a level of indifference or worse. If one is genuinely concerned to know the answer to a question, let us seek his proper help; but if asking questions with the evident intention of disputing against the truth, he deserves no answer.

For the servant of the Lord (another character in which the believer is seen in this chapter) must not strive: he must remember that he is only a servant, but a servant of the Lord, and responsible simply to obey and proclaim the truth God has given him. To rightly represent his Master, he must be gentle, and have a willingness to teach in all patience. Any instruction given to others must be in meekness, the servant himself not contending for his own interests, for it is solely the interests of God he is called upon to serve. If others oppose, let him remember that they are really opposing themselves and their own proper welfare; and he is to be concerned that God will work in blessing by means of true repentance in such souls, giving them a subject acknowledgment of the truth. And this of course is not by any means that the servant should be proven right, but that by the grace of God the opposer may be recovered from the snare of the devil, by which he has been deluded.

It is not that the devil takes anyone captive at his will, but "for his will," as is the proper translation. Satan's will is not so predominant as to secure victims as he pleases. God does not allow such a thing unless there is first some wrong attitude on the part of the individual, such as leads him to being willingly deceived. It has been questioned too whether it is Satan's will here indicated, or God's will (referring to v. 25); but in either case it is allowed with the object of humbling the will of the victim in experiencing the evil results of such captivity. What a mercy if this captivity leads to a genuine desire for recovery! But the servant is to be in truth a servant to the real need of souls.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/2-timothy-2.html. 1897-1910.

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Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
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