The second letter from Paul to Timothy was written around 64 AD, which is partly determined from the content, where Paul speaks of finishing his race and being poured out like an offering. Thus the overall tone of the letter is a last-minute pep talk, an encouragement and final charge for Timothy to do his duty and carry on the work.
As usual, Paul identifies himself as an Ambassador of Jesus, and he speaks of Timothy as a dear child. He remembers him often, especially his “non-pedantic” faith. The Greek word refers to micromanagement, to an obsession with details and control. That kind of faith is harmful and counterproductive, while Timothy’s is genuine. This pure faith has been passed to Timothy like a family heirloom on his mother’s side. It should be noted that since his father was Greek, the responsibility for keeping faith was clearly on his mother and grandmother, whose qualifications for the job were proved in Timothy. It is this heritage which he is to fan into flame, empowered by the spiritual gift he received from Paul’s dedication of him.
This teaching by the women in Timothy’s family makes an important point: that women are qualified teachers. It stretches credulity to think that such women lose this wisdom and ability if a male student is beyond a certain age, such that she who was once wise and instructive is now to be considered deceiving and seducing. Even if this were true, it makes no sense whatsoever to have the deceivable teach the vulnerable. To think that such women could raise a Timothy only until he reached a certain (and arbitrary) biological age, at which point they were to keep silence, is to abandon all logic and sense.
Paul’s warning against cowardice may indicate that Timothy was hesitant to take on his responsibilities, possibly because of his youth, but also undoubtedly because it would involve suffering. To shrink back would mean to be ashamed of Jesus. But Paul’s loyalty and fearlessness were rooted in knowing his Savior and trusting him to guard his reward till the day Jesus returns for us.
Paul continues to remind Timothy of all he has learned from him, whether by word or deed. He seems to hold up some bad examples as further motivation for Timothy to keep to the course, followed by some good examples to keep him motivated.
Once again Timothy is charged with passing the teachings on, but not to just anyone: they have to be trustworthy and qualified people. Character is always the focus in any such admonitions of Paul. These people would also have to be willing to endure hardship, just as Timothy would. The rewards come to those who earn them, which is only one of many instances in the New Testament that put responsbility on us for using the power God makes available to us. God will not cause spiritual growth without our cooperation, or there’d be no need for any of these warnings and encouragements. And of course the ultimate example is Jesus, whose endurance of suffering is our model. But even if we falter, he will never disown us, a promise we need to remember when we doubt our own faith.
Paul’s warnings against needless squabbling echo those of the first letter. Timothy must discipline himself to focus on the only words that matter, and to recognize the great responsibility of understanding and teaching them properly. As before, Paul names dangerous teachers so others can take warning. But note the nature of the false teaching here: that the Resurrection had already happened. It should be obvious that this does not refer to Jesus’ resurrection, since that fact is what every saved person believes. Instead it must refer to another Resurrection, one that all his followers will experience.
So the question is whether this Resurrection refers only to the final one of all human history, or to the one known as the Rapture. We are given a clue in the fact that these two false teachers were frightening people by telling them this event had already happened and they had missed it. Who would believe they had missed the apocalyptic end of human history? Or even the Great Tribulation? Only the Rapture would explain how people could be fooled into thinking they missed the Resurrection. And Paul reinforces the impossibility of something like that happening without our knowledge by reminding Timothy that Jesus knows who are his, and he will not forget them or abandon them.
Now Paul uses the illustration of common household containers to teach Timothy that our usefulness to God depends upon our attitude. If we purge ourselves from the unsavory aspects of life and fill ourselves with good qualities, we will do great things for God. Once again this is our responsbility; God does not determine which kind of container we are, but uses us according to what we make available to him. It is our choice but his power. We are to discipline ourselves like soldiers or athletes who are dedicated to their causes. At the same time, Timothy must remember that this is not something he can dictate to people, but like Paul he must lead by example.
This familiar description of conditions in the last days has often been cited as applicable to our time. No one would dispute the fact that life in the time of Paul was hardly a bed of roses, especially after all he had said about his sufferings. So for him to put the last days in a class of their own is a clear indication that the intensity and pervasiveness of these evils would be much worse. Paul gave these things as a sign for us, and we need to pay attention.
Of particular importance is his statement about fake believers. We tend to forget that evil does not knock on the front door and hold up an ID card for us; it pretends to be one of us. It slowly introduces teachings that on the surface appear to be harmless or even beneficial. But one step leads to another, and one by one the false teachings replace true ones. Those without discernment will follow such teachers without question, and they accuse anyone criticizing the false teachers of being hateful and negative, or even thwarting the work of God. But the goal they and their teachers pursue will never be reached, and their faith will be ruined. We need to take Paul’s warnings seriously, and all the more as the end approaches.
Shifting back to Timothy again, Paul urges him to keep a tight grip on that which has been a part of his life from earliest childhood. The sacred writings are not dead letters or fables, but the living, breathing Word of God. They are meant to be used for our spiritual growth, whether by encouraging the good or discouraging the bad. It’s our spiritual Owner’s Manual.
As if all of this hasn’t been enough, now Paul challenges Timothy with a solemn charge before God to stay at his post. This isn’t optional or secondary; this is what the Christian leader is called to. Timothy is not to be a “weekend warrior” but to see this as a continual and lifetime commitment. This charge is for every Christian leader, because as Paul warned, a time would come when there would be no tolerance for such teachings— a time that many would agree we have now reached. And keep in mind that these people who won’t listen to the truth are found within the community of believers; these instructions have all been about how Timothy is to instruct the Congregation.
Paul goes back to the example of his own life to motivate Timothy to stay the course. Again he mentions the last days with reference to Jesus’ sudden appearance, which the faithful will live in great hope of seeing. This is described as a hope that will earn a reward, one that Paul himself expected to have. How many believers today live in the daily hope of Jesus’ sudden return? Sadly, there are many who not only have lost this hope but who are hostile to those who still have it. Yet if Paul believed Jesus could return in his lifetime, it must be an event without prior notice, like a thief in the night.
Now Paul nears the end of the letter with typical personal business and the joy of knowing that his sufferings have not been in vain. But notice his attitude toward someone who opposed his message and did him much harm: he is confident that the Master will give the man what he deserves. Yet today, any believer who voices any such “negativity” is called hateful and un-Christlike. Clearly there is a place for righteous indignation and wishing for the enemies of the Gospel to get what’s coming to them. Can we accuse Paul of contradicting his earlier injunctions for Timothy to be gentle? Instead, we must conclude that gentleness is for those who simply disagree on disputable matters, while harshness is in order for those who oppose the gospel itself and do harm to the faith.