By Zane C. Hodges
Find Faithful Men
2:1. The Apostle commences with an emphatic you (su) and an inferential therefore (oun). In the light of the weakness and defection of others, “you, therefore, be strong.” Paul derives a challenge both from the weakness of the many and the courage of one (Onesiphorus). Consequently, Timothy is to stand out sharply for spiritual strength (endunamou). If he stands against a general backdrop of failure, it is only by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (en tē chariti tē en Christō Iēsou). As our salvation is by grace, since few are saved, so also is any strength we may have to be faithful in these days of spiritual declension and decay. We stand by grace alone.
2:2. The failure of others, however, is not only a call to personal fortitude but also to special efforts to find faithful men to whom we can commit the truth and insure its perpetuation. The phrase dia pollōn marturōn means in the midst of many witnesses and doubtless refers to the many who had heard the Apostle’s doctrine and could hence testify that what Timothy taught was truly apostolic. As the spiritual climate darkens, the perpetuation of truth to chosen men becomes increasingly vital.
2:3. Then again (and note the repeated su oun which seems to take up at the same point of thought as in 2:1), such circumstances of weakness and human failure (cf. 1:15–18) point up most plainly that there is a spiritual warfare in progress. Such a conflict makes plain that hard times lie ahead, and Timothy must be ready to endure them—to suffer evil (kakopathēson)—as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2:4. Accordingly, effective service in this conflict requires avoiding entanglements and retaining a singleness of heart for our Captain. This is extremely difficult to maintain due to the subtle allures by which we become so easily entangled with life. The word pragmateia is a word which, in its classical background, would readily suggest business affairs (cf. the verb pragmateuomai in Luke 19:13 in which it means “to trade,” “to do business”). The Apostle doubtless intends to forbid all kinds of entanglements, but especially material things and the love of money. All such entanglements prevent the soul from sincerely seeking to please Him Who enrolled him. They are the basic reason for the fall of countless warriors of the faith.
The Rules of the Game
2:5. But this conflict is also an athletic competition whose rules cannot be circumvented. The extra-Biblical background of lawfully (nomimōs) in connection with the games points to the fact that its reference embraces not only the regulations of the contest but also the proper training for it (cf. Epict. 111.10). We can neither shortcut the spiritual exercises which prepare us for the contest, nor can we circumvent its rules.
We cannot be slack in prayer and meditation on Scripture and expect to win the crown. Nor can we adopt unscriptural techniques and gain any prize. It is always shorter to run across the track rather than around it, but only those who run around it are crowned. We must resist the allure of modern high-pressure, organizational procedures with all their emphasis on mass production and numbers, and we must follow the simple rule book of Scripture if we want a crown. The compromise of Timothy’s day was winning no crowns. Nor is it in our day.
2:6. Verse 3 condemns spiritual softness; v 4 spiritual ensnarement; and v 5 spiritual compromise. These are followed by the stigmatizing of spiritual turpitude and laziness. It is the laboring farmer who has a preeminent claim on the fruits. It is always harder and more laborious to resist compromise and to strive “lawfully.” The soul can easily sink to a level where it is unwilling to make the effort required by faithfulness and obedience to the truth. But those who do make this effort will—in a coming day of spiritual harvest—have first place and first claim on the fruits of that harvest. It is easier always to choose a ministry that is financially “safe” rather than spiritually faithful.
2:7. These figures deserve Timothy’s consideration. The Apostle desires that God would grant him a full understanding of them. More is in them than meets the eye. They deserve our attention as well, for they are pivotal to the spiritual life. It is doubtful that the spiritual principles of victory are presented more succinctly or pointedly anywhere else.
Occupation with Christ
2:8. All of what precedes in vv 3-6 has to do with our person and position—whether as a soldier, athlete, or husbandman. But exclusive occupation with self and self-experience is unhealthy. We need ever the counterpoise of occupation with Another—with Jesus Christ (Mnēmoneue Iēsoun Christon egēgermenon…ek spermatos Dabid). Jesus Christ is to be ever remembered both in His resurrection triumph as well as in His earthly prerogatives. He is at once a Living Person and also One Who has a place in the future affairs of the earth because He is of the seed of David.
The angelic proclamation that God will give Him the throne of His father David (see Luke 1:32) is sure to take place. The death of the cross could not prevent it; He is risen. And as surely as He is risen, He must reign “over the house of Jacob forever” (see Luke 1:33).
Only the Dispensationalist can, in the fullest sense of the term, remember Him as truly of the earthly seed of David. The non-Dispensationalist has partially, at least, forgotten. The events of history will ultimately jog his memory.
His triumph over death, and His future, are the objective mainstays of the soul (cf. His kingdom anticipated in v 11). Remembering Him is the superlative inspiration to the laborer, to the athlete, or to the soldier.
The Word Goes Out
2:9-10. If the Risen Savior is our personal inspiration, His gospel program is our personal challenge (kata to euangelion, en hō kakopathō). In the service of a gospel which presented these glorious facts, Paul felt able to endure the indignity of prison knowing that nothing could hinder the on-going of God’s Word or the accomplishment of His gracious purpose toward the elect. If sufferings are a part of this, he is ready to endure them.
Notice how the Apostle here widens Timothy’s horizon (and ours) from the personal struggle that attends self-discipline and restraint (vv 3-7) to the ongoing program for those who have been chosen by God to eternal glory (hupomenō dia tous eklektous hina kai autoi sōtērias tuchōsin…meta doxes aiōniou).
The hardships of our personal combat are here swallowed up in the Person of Christ and in the program of the gospel. Like the Savior Himself, Paul becomes—and we may become—willing to suffer, even die, for the elect’s sake and for their salvation. Thus the servant’s pinnacle of experience, and the disciple’s, is reached: he is as His Lord and Master. The experience of vicarious suffering for the salvation of the very ones for whom Christ suffered is perhaps the loftiest of all possible spiritual experiences.
It is also thrilling to dwell on the statement the word of God is not chained (ho logos tou Theou ou dedetai). Human authorities may restrain the servants of Christ, but they cannot restrain His message. They can imprison the proclaimers but cannot imprison the proclamation. They may bind an Apostle, but never apostolic truth.
For nineteen hundred years, the Word of God has defied all human chains and prisons. Its diffusion in the world today is an eloquent comment on the Apostle’s remark. What has happened to the Hellenistic philosophies of his day? They are dead. But the Word of God is living and free.
The Reign to Come
2:11-13. But is it all worthwhile? Verses 11–13 give the answer. Co-death guarantees co-life with Him (sunapethanomen…suzēsomen). Fellowship in endurance of suffering presages fellowship in the reign to come (hupomenomen…sumbasileusomen). Conversely, to deny Him is but a prelude to our greatest shame, i.e., He will deny us (arnoumetha…arnēsetai hēmas). We may ever trust, for even when we do not, He is completely trustworthy (ei apistoumen, ekeinos pistos menei).
Note that the elements of v 8 are in v 11. Jesus Christ is risen, and so are we, and so will we be for we are united with Him in His death (cf. Romans 6). He is the Seed of David and must yet reign, and so may we, if we endure.
On the other hand, it is sobering to consider the shame we may feel in a coming day if we are ashamed of Him now (Matt 10:33; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 12:9). We contemplate this truth too little.
The final verse is full of comfort. It is, in fact, the basis of all true faith. We tend to trust our faith and not the faithful One. We must learn to believe that He is faithful in the very moments of our greatest unbeliefs and doubt. Compare Peter and Christ in Matt 14:28-31. When Peter’s faith failed, Christ did not let him sink. Likewise, the cry of the doubter is heard by a faithful Lord Whose hand of power will be stretched out to us.
This bedrock, 2 Tim 2:13, was the foundation stone of Hudson Taylor’s life of tremendous faith. It can be ours as well. Jesus must remain faithful. To do otherwise would contradict His very nature, for He cannot deny Himself. He is true to us because He is true to Himself. In this reality—which lifts us utterly out of our feelings, and fears, and failures—lies the secret of true faith.
Zane Hodges taught New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Dallas Theological Seminary.