In “Arlene’s Walk Through Life Inspirational Web,” Monika, aged nine, wrote this letter dated April 12, 2006: “Hi, God. How old are you and how old is your son?”96 Kids say the funniest things. We wonder if Monika has siblings, where she grew up, or if she attended Sunday school.
Likewise, to understand a letter, one must know the situation of the writer at the time of writing. Thus, to grasp Paul’s charge to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:1-8), we must note the literary, social, and historical background against which it was written.
After over thirty years of hard work for the Gospel, Paul is in prison again. He faces imminent death. Except for Luke who visits him, he is alone and in chains (2 Tim. 1:16). Paul longs to see old friends and brethren, especially his beloved son in the faith—Timothy (2 Tim. 4:9-13). Yet, Timothy was not just his beloved disciple. He was also his “brother and minister of God” and “fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ” (1 Thess. 3:2). Thus, he leaves Timothy some final instructions in this last letter (2 Tim. 1:4; 4:9).
In view of his limited time, the final words of a condemned man should indicate what matters to him especially. 2 Timothy is a letter from a man in a cold prison who knew that he would soon face death (2 Tim. 4:6-8). It is in many respects Paul’s “last will and testament.”97 It is his final letter. This fact alone underscores the paramount importance of his charge to Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:1).
It seemed that things were overwhelming Pastor Timothy at the time. He was then a young, timid, and sickly leader of the church (1 Cor. 16:10-11; 1 Tim. 4:12; 5:23; 2 Tim. 1:7-8). He faced many challenges that he did not learn from Bible school. He had to set up church worship (1 Tim. 2:1-15). He needed to choose and ordain the right elders (1 Tim. 3:1-16). He must ensure support for widows (1 Tim. 5:3-16). He had to exercise the duties of a Pastor (1 Tim. 4:6-16). Meanwhile, there was the escalating threat of Roman persecution. False teachers within the church were on the offensive. Some opposed Timothy’s leadership in the Ephesian church. It all affected him somewhat.
Thus, Paul encouraged Timothy to “rekindle” or literally, “to keep the fire alive” “the gift of God, which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). He also told Timothy to replace fear with power, love, and a sound mind. He is not to be ashamed of Paul and the Lord. He must be ready to suffer for the Gospel. He is to hold on to the truth (2 Tim. 1:7-14).98
Purpose and Theme
Paul’s purpose for writing is primarily to encourage Timothy to be faithful in ministry.99 Timothy is to protect the purity of the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:8, 14). He must put forth dedication in suffering for the Gospel (2 Tim. 2:1-4). He is to persevere faithfully in the Word (2 Tim. 3:14). He should proclaim it against all odds (2 Tim. 4:2). Thus, Paul’s theme in this short epistle is wrapped up in the double emphasis of enduring in ministry and faithfulness to the truth (2 Tim. 2:14-26).100 Throughout his last letter, Paul revealed his passion and priorities. He stressed the high importance of sound doctrine, steady faith, and steadfast love.101
Paul exhorts young Timothy to be loyal in the faith, to be strong in grace, and to endure in the Lord. He is to strive to be a minister whom God approves, by his accurate handling of the Word (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul set these expectations in light of the challenges to his leadership and the spread of false teachings in the church (2 Tim. 1:13; 2-3).
2 Timothy raises two key concerns. Paul’s death was imminent. Their partners in ministry, Phygelus, Hermogenes, and Demas, have now given up on the Gospel ministry totally (2 Tim. 1:15; 4:10).102 In this light, Paul gives the urgent charge to “Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2).
The apostle drives home a divine benchmark in pastoral ministry. Protecting the purity of the Gospel, preaching the Word, and persevering in it mark one’s faithfulness to the truth (2 Tim. 1:14, 3:14; 4:2). Biblical preaching is pivotal in dealing with false teachings and apostasy.
Paul also predicted widespread godlessness, rampant evil, and false teaching in the last days (2 Tim. 3:1-9). It will “spread like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:16, NIV). It will become more terrible and intense than in previous ages. However, the preaching of the Word of God will overcome it (2 Tim. 3:16-4:8).103 Timothy is to be faithful in both doctrine and conduct in view of the false teachers (2 Tim. 2:21-26). He is to proclaim the Word diligently (2 Tim. 3:1-4:8). Soon, God will expose false teachers (2 Tim. 3:9). Daniel B. Wallace writes, “This warning of eschatological doom becomes the framework for urgency in the proclamation of the Word (3:19-4:8).”104
Paul then underscores the nature and power of God’s Word. The Scriptures are adequate to make one wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). It is God-breathed. It is given by the authority of God for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). The written Word is the only tool for effective ministry (2 Tim. 3:17). Paul, therefore, charges Timothy to preach the Word “fervently and frequently (4:1-5).”105
2 Timothy is a letter that only a mentor and father in the faith could write. It is a very moving letter. Yet, as Donald Guthrie and Stephen Motyer noted, there was “no hint of self pity, no regrets.” Paul’s last words are words of encouragement, with no fear of death and without doubt.106 He can confidently say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: At last, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will give me at that day” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
96 “Kids Pages,” in “Arlene’s Walk Through Life Inspirational Web.” Cited __ Online: http://www.walkthroughlife.com/index.shtml.
97 Daniel B. Wallace, “2 Timothy: Introduction, Argument, and Outline.” Cited __ Online: http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=1340.
98 MacArthur, MacArthur, 1875.
99 Wallace, “2 Timothy.” Cited __ Online: http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_ id=1340.
100 Wallace, “2 Timothy.” Cited __ Online: http://www.bible.org/page.asp? page_id=1340.
101 David R. Veerman, Life Application Bible (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1989), 2135.
102 Craig Tucker, “2 Timothy—Guard the Gospel,” in Cited __ Online: http://www.Perspective.org.au/sermonseries/146/2-timothy—guard-the-gospel.
103 HBD, s. v. “2 Timothy,” by Mark E. Matheson. Cited __ Online: http://www. studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T6672>. 1991.
104 Wallace, “2 Timothy.” Cited __ Online: http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_ id=1340.
105 Wallace, “2 Timothy.” Cited __ Online: http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_ id=1340.
106 Donald Guthrie and Stephen Motyer, “2 Timothy,” The Lion Handbook to the Bible (3rd ed.; ed. Pat Alexander and David Alexander; Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1999), 735