2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
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2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 Biblical Commentary
In the preceding verses, Paul predicted:
“In the last days, grievous times will come.
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money,
boastful, arrogant, blasphemers,
disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
without natural affection,
unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, fierce,
no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, conceited,
lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God;
holding a form of godliness, but having denied its power” (3:1-5a).
When I studied those verses, I was struck by how many of those things we see today. Every generation produces people with some of those characteristics, but they seem so prevalent today—especially among those who occupy positions of great power.
Paul calls Timothy to “turn away from these” people (3:5b), who will be led by lust. While always learning, they never learn.
But Paul holds out a sprig of hope: “But they will proceed no further. For their folly will be evident to all men” (3:9).
Then Paul commends Timothy for following Paul’s teachings, but warns that “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (3:10, 13).
2 TIMOTHY 3:14-15. REMAIN IN THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED
14 But you remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them. 15 From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.
“But you remain (Greek: meno) in the things which you have learned and have been assured of”(3:14a). The Greek word meno can be translated “remain” or “abide”—and means dwelling in a particular place—remaining there—abiding there. It suggests to me the kind of stability that we associate with being at home—among family and friends.
Paul is telling Timothy to remain in “the things that (Timothy has) learned and (has) been assured of.” Timothy will find great comfort and security in those things, just as he would find at home with his family.
• It takes great faith and courage to remain in the things we have learned in church or at the feet of Christian parents when the common culture is awash with deception.
• It takes great self-discipline to practice faith, honesty, and sexual fidelity when inundated by pressures from the common culture calculated to lead us in the opposite direction.
Paul is calling Timothy to have that kind of great faith and self-discipline. Given the condition of our world, so like the world that Paul was describing in verses 3:1-13, we need that kind of faith and self-discipline too. We can gain those qualities only through prayer, worship within a community of believers, and the study of scripture and its application to our lives.
“knowing from whom you have learned them” (3:14b). Timothy learned faith from his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother Lois—both of whom were believers (1:5). He also learned from Paul, who was a mentor (as in this letter) and a close associate.
“From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures” (Greek: hieros grammata—holy writings) (3:15). The scriptures have been another of Timothy’s teachers. His mother and grandmother exposed Timothy to these scriptures from his early childhood.
The scriptures of which Paul is speaking are what we call the Old Testament. The New Testament canon had not yet begun to be formulated. After the church had developed the New Testament canon, Christians assumed that what Paul said about Old Testament scriptures also applies to New Testament scriptures.
“which are able to make you (Greek: dynamai—has the power. “To make you” is not in the Greek but is implied) wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15). Scripture, rightly appropriated, has saving power. If you doubt that, talk with a member of the Gideons, who put Bibles in hotel room drawers and other places. They have endless true stories about people who have read those Bibles and have come to know Christ as a result—people whose lives have been transformed by their encounter with scripture.
The salvation of which Paul speaks is through faith in Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17. EVERY SCRIPTURE IS GOD-BREATHED
16 Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
“Every Scripture is God-breathed (Greek: theopneustou) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (3:16). The Greek word theopneustou combines two words: Theos (God) and pneustou (breathed).
• That brings to mind that God “breathed into (the man’s) nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).
• It also brings to mind the prophet Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones. God spoke to the dry bones through the prophet, saying, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live…. So Ezekiel prophesied as (God) commanded (him), and the breath came into (the dry bones), and they lived, and stood up on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:5, 10).
God’s breath brings life where there was no life. God’s breath animates and inspires. Some translations say “inspired by God” instead of “God-breathed,” because the word “inspire” come from the Latin inspirare, which means “to breathe into.” God has breathed into his scriptures the breath of life and has given them life—so that those scriptures might inspire and instruct us—breathing their breath of life into us.
But what does it mean that God inspired the scriptures?
• Some believe in verbal inspiration—that God, in essence, inspired writers word-by-word, as if the words were dictated and written exactly as God intended.
That raises questions. Why are the vocabularies and styles of Biblical writers so different and distinctive? Did God also inspire the transmission of the manuscripts through the ages? Has God inspired translations? If God inspired writers word-by-word, wouldn’t he also manage the process of transmission and translation?
• Others believe that God inspired the writers to convey God’s message, but in the words of the authors.
A complete study of Biblical inspiration is beyond the scope of this commentary, so I encourage readers to study the matter further with more complete resources.
Regardless of the theory of inspiration, Paul assures Timothy that all scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof (rebuking), for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.” In other words, it is a faithful guide for the beliefs and actions of the Christian community.
“that the man of God may be complete (Greek: artios), thoroughly equipped for every good work” (3:17). The word artios means complete or fully qualified and “equipped for every good work.”
I remember my seminary training as broad-based, covering lots of ground but not in depth. That included Biblical studies, which were especially weak. If there is one subject that seminaries should teach in depth, it is Biblical studies—by which I mean examining particular texts verse by verse, to include the use of the original languages. To the extent that my experience was normative, I consider seminary education to be woefully deficient.
2 TIMOTHY 4:1-2. PREACH THE WORD
1 I command you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his Kingdom: 2 preach the word; be urgent in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and teaching.
“I command (Greek: diamartyromai) you therefore” (4:1a). The Greek word diamartyromai combines dia (which adds intensity) and martyromai (to bear witness). Note the similarity between martyromai and our word martyr. That is no coincidence. Martyrs were those who were killed because they bore witness to Christ.
As is true in English, a word can have several meanings—sometimes closely related and sometimes not. In this instance, diamartyromai can best be translated, “I charge you” or “I exhort you.”
“before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge (Greek: krino) the living and the dead at his appearing and his Kingdom” (4:1b). The Greek word krino means to judge—to distinguish between good and evil.
The picture that comes to mind here is the Son of Man coming in glory to sit on his throne of glory and to judge the gathered nations. “He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:32-33).
To those on his right, he will say, “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me” (Matthew 25:34-36).
But to those on his left, he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me” (Matthew 25:41-43).
It is a picture of a frightening and final judgment.
“preach (Gk. kerusso) the word” (Greek: logos) (4:2a). The word kerusso means “herald”—a person who proclaims a message in behalf of another, such as the spokesperson for a king. A herald would sometimes shout the message in a public place to disseminate it as broadly and clearly as possible. The early church adapted this word to speak of preaching, which is the broadcasting of the Gospel authorized by the King of kings.
“the word” (Greek: logos) can be understood in two ways:
• It can refer to the scriptures. Preachers need to have their sermons and teaching firmly rooted in scripture.
• It can refer to the Word who was in the beginning with God, was with God, and was God (John 1:1). This is not the written word, but the living Word—Jesus Christ—God’s ultimate revelation of himself to the human race—God’s ultimate agent of salvation.
When Paul tells Timothy to preach the word, he surely means both of these—but especially the second—the living Word—Jesus Christ.
“be urgent in season and out of season” (Greek: ephistethi eukairos akairos) (4:2b). The words eukairos and akairos both end with Kairos, which means time—significant time—the decisive moment.
A literal translation would be, “Stand by or press earnestly whether it is a convenient time (in season) or not (out of season).
“In season” and “out of season” capture the sense of it. Peas and lettuce are early crops. They wouldn’t grow if we planted them in the heat of summer. Tomatoes, on the other hand, require hot days. A wise gardener knows the difference and plans his/her planting accordingly.
Politicians understand this principle. They tailor their message to their audience so that they maximize their support.
But Paul tells Timothy not to do this. He is to preach the word whether it is popular or not. He is to tell the truth, whether people like it or not.
That is an uncomfortable word for preachers to hear. If we come across as offensive, we alienate people who need to hear what we have to say. Perhaps a good rule of thumb would be “Tell the truth in love.” People will know if we love or despise them. If we despise them, we need to pray that God will help us love them. Then we will be able to tell the truth without terrible offense.
“reprove (Greek: elegcho), rebuke (Greek: epitimao), and exhort” (Greek: parakaleo) (4:2c).
• Elegcho (reprove) means to persuade or to demonstrate that a person is in the wrong. To chastise. Can include a sense of shaming.
• Epitimao (rebuke) is somewhat stronger, in that it doesn’t carry the expectation that the offender will change. It can include the sense of censure.
• Parakaleo (exhort) combines para (alongside—to the side) and kaleo (to call). It can mean “to exhort” or to strongly urge, but it can also mean to encourage or to comfort.
“with all patience (Greek: makrothymia) and teaching” (Greek: didache) (4:2d).
• Makrothymia means patience, forbearance, and longsuffering. It is a characteristic of God, who is patient with his people.
• Didache involves teaching or instruction.
In other words, in these verses, Paul is encouraging Timothy to preach diligently, whether that seems to have effect or not, and to use every tool of persuasion at his disposal.
2 TIMOTHY 4:3-4. THE TIME WILL COME—THEY WON’T LISTEN
3 For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables.
“For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine (Greek: didaskalia), but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts” (Greek: epithymia) (4:3). The word didaskalia (doctrine) is related to didache (teaching or instruction), and has to do with that which is taught.
Paul warns that the time will come when people will no longer listen to the truth. They will no longer be interested in sound doctrine. They will instead turn to people who will tell them what they want to hear—who cater to their epithymia—their lusts.
The word epithymia speaks of out-of-control desires—carnal appetites (Galatians 5:16)—the kinds of desires that suck people in, grind them up, and spit them out. It isn’t just the desire for sex that prompts harmful behavior. People also lust after fame, power, and a host of other things.
“and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables” (4:4). We see this all the time in the political arena, where politicians pander to people’s frustrations and anxieties by making pie-in-the-sky promises. We see it in the religious arena, where churches substitute entertaining music and charismatic preaching for sound doctrine.
H. L. Mencken once said, “No one ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” That phenomenon isn’t limited to America. People everywhere make poor decisions because they desperately want what they don’t have—so they follow pied-pipers of all stripes—politicians, preachers, advertisers, salespersons, and tempters of various sorts. They too easily “turn aside to fables.”
2 TIMOTHY 4:5. FULFILL YOUR MINISTRY
5 But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry.
“But you be sober (Greek: nepho) in all things” (4:5a). The word nepho means sober-minded or watchful. The person who is nepho won’t lash out blindly, but will take time to assess problems and to devise solutions.
“suffer hardship” (4:5b). Paul is writing this letter from prison. He has certainly endured suffering for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 9:16, 28; 13:50; 14:4, 19; 16:22; 21:30; 22:22; 23:1-10; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 11:16-28; 2 Timothy 2:9; 3:10-13).
Paul is not making the point that Timothy should seek out hardship, but rather that, if need be, Timothy should be willing to endure suffering for the Gospel.
“do the work of an evangelist” (Greek: euaggelistes) (4:5c). The work of an euaggelistes (evangelist) is to preach the Gospel, usually as an itinerant preacher rather than as the pastor of a congregation.
“and fulfill your ministry” (4:5d). Paul is calling Timothy to carry out his ministry to the fullest possible extent—to accomplish that to which God has called him.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Cousar, Charles B. in Cousar, Charles B., Gaventa, Beverly R., McCann, J. Clinton, and Newsome, James D., Texts for Teaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
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