Charge to Timothy Repeated

4:1 I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 4:2 Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.

Here we have, as Stott reminds us, some of the very last words spoken or written by the apostle Paul.  They were recorded within weeks, or even days, of his martyrdom (he is believed to have been beheaded on the Ostian Way).

Fee describes vv1-5 as an continuation of Paul’s appeal to Timothy, in the form of a solemn charge (v1), followed by nine imperatives (five in v2 and four in v5).  Fee adds that the paragraph needs to be read in the light of the fact that Paul knew that his ministry was coming to an end.  Bearing in mind what we read in vv6-8 (‘Fulfill your ministry, for I am already about to be poured out…’), what we have here is the equivalent of the changing of the guard, or the passing on of the baton.

In giving this charge to Timothy, Paul has three spurs to faithfulness: (a) Christ is coming; (b) the false teachers are staying; (c) he (Paul) is leaving.

J.B. Phillips paraphrases v1f as follows: ‘I urge you, Timothy, as we live in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus (whose coming in power will judge the living and the dead), to preach the Word of God. Never lose your sense of urgency, in season or out of season. Prove, correct, and encourage, using the utmost patience in your teaching.’ J.I Packer, quoting this paraphrase, notes the following aspects of the communication process that Paul prescribes: proclamation, demonstration, correction, instruction. (Collected Short Writings, Vol 3, p275)

Paul’s charges to Timothy (particularly as summed up in 2 Tim 4:1-5) provide an appropriate summary of the essential conduct of a minister of the gospel.

Paul’s charge is couched in highly eschatological language.  Paul still believes – as he did when he wrote much earlier to the Thessalonians – in the return of Jesus Christ, but he now realises that he is likely to die before that great event occurs.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus – We should always seek to fulfil our ministry with a vivid sense of the presence of God.  It is his approval, and not that of men, that really matters.  We should neither be too elated by praise, nor too depressed by criticism.

‘If Christians were able to grasp the fact fully that God is with them, really and continually present, and that they live their lives in his presence, their zeal to live holy lives would be far more evident. But the invisibility requires faith. And with so much that is visible clamoring for our attention, we think and act as if the invisible were unreal or blind.  This is not a modern problem. While the Israelites were in the wilderness, the emblems of God’s presence with them were the pillar of cloud and the ark of the covenant. They still lived as if God were far away. But a clear look at God is a life-changing experience, as Moses (Ex 34:6-8) and Peter (Lk 5:1-9) discovered. Even as they needed to be reminded of God’s promise-“I will be with you”-we need to take the truth of the presence of God and Christ down from the shelf, dust it off and meditate on it. Perhaps it will awaken in us “the fear of the Lord,” a powerful inspiration to holy living and faithfulness.’ (IVPNTC)

Who will judge the living and the dead – ‘“the living,” that is, those who will still be living on earth at the moment of the Second Coming, and “the dead,” that is, those who will have died by that time.’ (Hendriksen)

The phrase emphasises that no-one will escape divine judgment.  All who preach the word of God and all who hear it must give an account to Christ when he returns.

Paul’s message to Timothy has to be seen in the light of these truths: the is a great God, a future judgment, a glorious coming, and an eternal kingdom. (Dick Lucas)

‘A Christian must do every task in such a way that he can offer it to Christ. He is not concerned with either the criticism or the verdict of men. The one thing he covets is the “Well done!” of Jesus Christ. If we all did our work in that spirit, the difference would be incalculable. It would save us from the touchy spirit which is offended by criticism; it would save us from the self-important spirit which is concerned with personal rights and personal prestige; it would save us from the self-centred spirit which demands thanks and praise for its every act; it would even save us from being hurt by men’s ingratitude.’ (DSB)

His appearing – The word is epiphaneia.  This was used in connection with a Roman emperor’s visit to a town or province.  Obviously, the streets would be cleaned and everything would be put in order in preparation for the visit.  So Christians are to do their work in such as way as to be ready for Christ’s ‘appearing’.

His kingdom – ‘Christ’s kingdom will be truly established when he has defeated his enemies and defeats every opposing power and so publicly displays his majesty.’ (Calvin)

Preach – to herald, or proclaim (ie, not merely to deliver a religious discourse in the conventional sense). Examples:- Noah, 2 Pet 2:5; cf. 1 Pet 3:19; Jonah, Jon 3:4; Mt 12:41; Lk 11:30; John the Baptist, Mt 3:1-2; Jn 1:29; the healed demoniac, Lk 8:39; Paul, Acts 9:20; Gal 6:14; 1 Cor 15:20, etc.

Timothy is not only to hear, believe, obey, guard, suffer for and continue in the word; he is also to proclaim it. (Stott)

The word – the gospel, 2 Tim 2:8-9.  It is ‘the deposit’ of 2 Tim 1, and the ‘sound teaching’, ‘the truth’, and ‘the faith’ of 2 Tim 4:3,4,7.  ‘It consists of the Old Testament Scriptures, God-breathed and profitable, which Timothy has known from childhood, together with the teaching of the apostle which Timothy has ‘followed’, ‘learned’ and ‘firmly believed’ (3:10,14).’ (Stott)

It is “the word of Christ,” because much of it was given by him, and all of it bears witness to him. It is “the word of [God’s] grace,” because its glorious theme is the free grace of God as seen in Christ’s dying love for our fallen race. It is “the word of the cross”, because in the crucifixion we see Christ, the wisdom and power of God. It is “the word of the gospel,” because it brings glad tidings of great joy to all nations. It is “the word of the kingdom,” because it holds out the hope of an everlasting kingdom of righteousness and peace. It is “the word of salvation,” because the purpose for which it was given is the salvation of sinners. It is “the word of truth,” because it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without mixture of error for its contents. It is “the word of life,” because it reveals to a fallen and perishing world God’s plan for life and immortality. It is “the word of faith” because faith is the proper and sufficient response to it.

‘We are not to preach sociology, but salvation; not economics, but evangelism; not reform, but redemption; not culture, but conversion; not progress, but pardon; not a new social order, but a new birth; not revolution, but regeneration; not renovation, but revival; not resuscitation, but resurrection; not a new organisation, but a new creation; not democracy, but the Gospel; not civilisation, but the Christ; we are ambassadors, not diplomats.’ (Hugh Thompsen Kerr) Cf. the following: ‘I often preach without a text or on a text from a non-biblical writer, Kierkegaard for example, or even on occasions Katherine Whitehorn!’ (D. Nineham, Q in Barr, The Bible in the Modern World, 6)

‘The Church betrays its trust and throws its life and its Lord away when it says, “Be beautifully spiritual and believe as you like,” or “Do blessed good and think as you please.”‘ (P.T. Forsyth)

‘It is a pity that many churches have substituted other things for the preaching of the Word, things that may be good in their place, but that are bad when they replace the proclamation of the Word.’ (Wiersbe)

Preaching (or heralding) the word is basic to the other four imperatives. (Hendriksen)

Be prepared in season and out of season – This speaks of urgency and determination in the face of apathy and resistance.  ‘Stick at your task whether or not your hearers welcome your message.’

This phrase speaks of availability and preparedness, like the doctor who is ready to answer an emergency call where life and death may be at stake.  ‘It is “available” Christians who will be able to seize the moment and win people for Christ or come to the aid of struggling brothers and sisters in the church.’ (IVPNTC)

‘The Christian herald knows that he is handling matters of life and death.  He is announcing the sinner’s plight under the judgment of God, the saving action of God through the death and resurrection of Christ, and the summons to repent and believe.  How can he treat such themes with cold indifference.’ (Stott)

‘A man who is greatly intent on an object will seek every opportunity to promote it. He will not confine himself to stated times and places, but will present it everywhere, and at all times. A man, therefore, who merely confines himself to the stated seasons of preaching the gospel, or who merely reaches when it is convenient to himself, should not consider that he has come up to the requirement of the rule laid down by the apostle. He should preach in his private conversation, and in the intervals of his public labours, at the side of the sick bed, and wherever there is a prospect of doing good to any one. If his heart is full of love to the Saviour and to souls, he cannot help doing this.’ (Barnes)

‘Here Paul commends not merely perseverance but even aggressiveness in overcoming all barriers and difficulties. For as we are naturally timid and lazy, we easily give up on the slightest pretext, and we even sometimes welcome difficulties as an excuse for indolence. We should reflect on how many ways Satan has prepared to stop our progress and how slow we are to follow our calling. Thus the Gospel will not exist for long if pastors do not press home its claims urgently. This ruthless persistence refers both to pastor and people. The pastor should not exercise his office of teaching merely at his own chosen times to suit his own convenience but sparing himself no labor or trouble should drive himself on. The people should constantly wake up those who are asleep, stop those who are rushing headlong in the wrong direction, and correct what is wrong in this vain world.’ (Calvin)

‘It was said of George Morrison of Wellington Church in Glasgow that with him wherever the conversation started, it went straight across country to Christ. This does not mean that we will not choose our time to speak, for there should be courtesy in evangelism as in every other human contact; but it does mean that perhaps we are far too shy in speaking to others about Jesus Christ.’ (DSB)

Correct – rather, ‘rebuke’ (those in error).

Rebuke – rather, ‘warn’ (those who do not heed the rebuke).

Encourage – rather, ‘exhort’, ‘urge’.

‘He must “use argument, reproof, and appeal” (NEB), which is almost a classification of three approaches, intellectual, moral and emotional.  For some people are tormented by doubts and need to be convinced by arguments.  Others have fallen into sin, and need to be rebuked.  Others are haunted by fears, and need to be encouraged.’ (Stott)

‘To quote an old rule of preachers, “He should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”‘ (Wiersbe)

‘If we were as teachable as we should be, Christ’s ministers could guide us merely by pointing out the right way. But as things are, sane advice and mere moderate exhortations are not enough to shake us out of our lethargy. Thus there is need for stronger reproofs and exhortations.’ (Calvin)

Patience – Gk makrothumia – the determination to stick to it.  This is required because, as Paul is about to affirm, not all will welcome the message.

Patience and careful instruction – ‘Given the resistant hearts that Timothy was encountering, he would need God’s patience in good measure. Equally, he had to pay careful attention to the content of what was taught (1 Tim 4:16). Slow response might tempt one to alter one’s teaching, but only sound teaching can produce sound, healthy Christians (cf. Tit 1:9).’ (IVPNTC)

‘This is a most necessary qualification. Rebukes either fail to have any effect because they are too violent or because they disappear into thin air, as they are not based on sound instruction. Exhortations are no more than supports to teaching, and without teaching they have little force. We see this in people who are very zealous but who have had little instruction. They wear themselves out; they shout at the tops of their voices and make a great noise, but all this is to no avail because they are building without solid foundations. I am speaking about people who are in other respects good but do not have enough learning and have too much emotional fervor…In sum, Paul is saying that rebukes should be based on teaching, that they may not be despised as being ineffective.’ (Calvin)

‘Preaching is involved in leadership as it focuses God’s will for his church expressed by correcting, rebuking, and encouraging.’ (Michael Quicke, in The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching)

4:3 For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things.

In providing incentives to Timothy to heed his charge, Paul encourages him to look in three directions: to Jesus as coming judge and king, to the present situation, and at himself as the prisoner at the end of his life and ministry (Stott).

‘Timothy is to carry on Paul’s ministry in a world in which there is no promise of eager response – even on the part of God’s people.’ (Fee)

The focus here is not so much on the false teachers, as on their hearers.

The time will come – It is clear from everything else that Paul says in this letter that these difficult times have already begun.  There is no prospect of things getting better after Paul’s death.

‘Paul is saying that we must make the most of the opportunities while some people still have reverence for Christ. It is as if Paul says that when you see a storm approaching you must not take your time about your work, but you must work more diligently, because you will soon not have the opportunity for work.’ (Calvin)

Men will not put up with sound doctrine

They will gather around them a great number of teachers – ‘There has always been a plentiful harvest of wicked people, as there is today, and Satan has never any lack of helpers or lack of ways of deceiving people.’ (Calvin)

Their itching ears– They are itching for new ideas with which to be fascinated.  See Jer 5:31; Eze 33:32.

‘Some people have an endless fascination with everything but the truth’ (New Geneva).

‘This description refers to people who crave spicy bits of information due to mere curiosity. This statement explains the reason for which people have gathered around them teachers who suit their desires. They have a desire to dabble with novelty. They covet new, fashionable ideas and long for the excitement of having their ears teased by the satisfying but harmless mumbling of pseudoscholarship. Such speakers toy with the minds of the hearers but leave the intellect uninformed, the conscience unchallenged, and the will set in a direction away from God.'(NAC)

‘This itch commonly ends in a scab of error.’ (Gurnall)

‘Christians should always be “conservative” in their theology. To have “itching ears,” ever running after new teachers, listening to anybody and never arriving at a knowledge of the truth, is a characteristic of the “terrible times” which shall come “in the last days.” (1 Tim 3:1,7; 4:3) The continuous obsession for “the latest ideas” is a mark of the Athenian not the Christian. (Ac 17:21) Christian theology is anchored not only to certain historical events, culminating in the saving career of Jesus, but to the authoritative apostolic witness to, and interpretation of, these events. The Christian can never weigh anchor and launch out into the deep of speculative thought. Nor can he forsake the primitive teaching of the apostles for the subsequent human traditions. The apostolic testimony is directed essentially to the Son. That is why it will keep Christians true to him if they remain true to it.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 123)

‘Men in the days of Timothy were beset by false teachers hawking round sham knowledge. Their deliberate policy was to find arguments whereby a man could justify himself for doing what he wanted to do. Any teacher, to this day, whose teaching tends to make men think less of sin is a menace to Christianity and to mankind.’ (DSB)

‘The story is told about an old American Indian who attended a church service one Sunday morning. The preacher’s message lacked real spiritual food, so he did a lot of shouting and pulpit pounding to cover up his lack of preparation. In fact, as it is sometimes said, he “preached up quite a storm.” After the service, someone asked the Indian, who was a Christian, what he thought of the minister’s message. Thinking for a moment, he summed up his opinion in six words: “High wind. Big thunder. No rain.” Yes, when the Scriptures are neglected, there is “no rain.” Only when preaching is based on God’s Word are his people blessed and refreshed.’

‘The fact that a preacher has a large congregation is not always a sign that he is preaching the truth. In fact, it may be evidence that he is tickling people’s “itching ears” and giving them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.’ (Wiersbe)

Ministerial Excellence, 2 Tim 4:1-4

Paul urges Timothy to

1. Remember your calling

Be concerned with what God thinks of your ministry, not what men think. Live and work in the light of the impending judgement, cf Rom 14:10,12.

2. Preach the word

To ‘preach’ – to herald, or proclaim (ie, not merely to deliver a religious discourse in the conventional sense. Examples:- Noah, 2 Pet 2:5; cf 1 Pet 3:19; Jonah, Jon 3:4; Mt 12:41; Lk 11:30; John the Baptist, Mt 3:1-2; Jn 1:29; the healed demoniac, Lk 8:39; Paul, Acts 9:20; Gal 6:14; 1 Cor 15:20, etc. ‘The word’ – the gospel, 1 Tim 2:8-9. The preacher’s task is to proclaim and explain Scripture, Ne 8:8. This is not always easy, for it causes offence, Rom 9:33 1 Pet 2:8 1 Cor 1:23 Gal 5:11. Timothy struggled with the temptation to be ashamed, 1 Tim 4:12 1 Tim 1:8. He also struggled with the impulses of youthful lust, 1 Tim 2:22. On the ‘word’ which Timothy was to preach, see 1 Tim 3:16; cf. Acts 20:27; also 1 Tim 1:13-14 2:15; cf. Col 1:25 1 Cor 2:1-2. A preacher may be popular if he is a gifted orator, a shrewd crowd-manipulator, a rousing speech-maker, or an erudite scholar. But he will never be powerful if he does not preach the word.

3. Be faithful in and out of season

His duty is a never-ending task. It is to be performed whatever the climate of opinion around him. Right now the preaching of the Word is out of season. This is no time for weak men, weak messages, and weak ministries. The pressure to minimise preaching and give people ‘what they want’ should be resisted. The expression, ‘be prepared’ might be used of a military guard, ready and eager to do his duty. Cf Jeremiah, who said that the word of God was a fire in his bones.

4. Correct, rebuke and encourage

Here are three words about the tone and content of Timothy’s message. Two are negative, the other positive (cf 2 Tim 3:16). Note, there should be a balance of negative and positive in preaching. Some preachers avoid mentioning sin because they think that people are burdened with too much guilt already. They prefer to focus on needs, rather than attack sin. But the deepest need is to confess and forsake sin. And preaching which avoids this is not meeting people’s needs. It may make them feel better, but it is not providing spiritual nourishment or healing. Positive encouragement is vital too: cf 1 Thess 2:11.

5. Don’t compromise in difficult times

Paul has already warned Timothy about difficult times to come, 1 Tim 4:1 (people will depart the faith); 1 Tim 3:1 (difficult times will come). Here, v3, is is said that those within the church will not endure sound doctrine. People become intolerant of sound doctrine because it confronts and rebukes them; they prefer to have their ears tickled instead. Paul’s remedy is not to soften the message to make it more comfortable, but to keep preaching the word faithfully. Note that in 1 Tim 1:9f Paul associates unholy lifestyles with ‘whatever is contrary to sound teaching’. Here, v3, the irony is that they seek out teachers – but those who will tell them what they want to hear. On those who turned away from Christ’s teaching, and Jesus’ challenge to his disciples, see Jn 6:66f.

6. Be sober in all things, v5

The word means self-controlled, steady, attentive. The minister does not pursue whims; he does not trade in current fashions; in the face of a changing world and a vacillating church, he is balanced, consistent, and solid.

7. Endure hardship

Ministers should not long for worldly applause; nor can they be lovers of earthly comfort. Faithful ministers cannot expect their work to be without challenges, problems, and disappointments, cf 1 Tim 2:1,3 3:12 Heb 13:23.

8. Do the work of an evangelist

This is part of a pastor’s work, and requires, as do the other responsibilities, courage and faithfulness. To declare human depravity, to set forth God’s law, to magnify the Cross, to warn of future judgement, is to invite bitter opposition.

9. Fulfill your ministry

Discharge all your duties, and do so with all your might. Reach the point where, like me, you can say, ‘I have fought the good fight.’ All Christians have a work to do for God. We all have a sphere of ministry. Let us fulfill it without compromise or timidity.

(Based on J. MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel, 24-40)

4:4 And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.

They (and Paul is referring here not to the false teachers, but to their ‘false hearers’) will readily abandon the truth for lies.  ‘The criterion by which they judge teachers is not (as it should be) God’s word but their own subjective taste.  Worse still, they do not first listen and then decide whether what they have heard is true; they first decide what they want to hear and then select teachers who will oblige by toeing their line.’ (Stott)

They will turn away from truth and to myths.  ‘Satan commonly stops the ear from hearing sound doctrine, before he opens it to embrace corrupt.’ (Gurnall)

4:5 You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry.

But you – ‘but as for you’ – Timothy must be different.  Paul repeatedly contrasts the beliefs and behaviours of the errorists with a contrasting word for Timothy.  See 2 Tim 2:1; 3:10, 14.

Keep your head– lit. ‘stay sober’.  When others become intoxicated with new teaching and experience, keep your head, stay cool, maintain your presence of mind.  When others are unstable in thought and behaviour, be steady.

Endure hardship – which is likely to come if Timothy continues to teach sound doctrine when people do not want to hear it.  ‘When the biblical fatih becomes unpopular, ministers are sorely tempted to mute those elements which give most offence.’ (Stott)

Do the work of an evangelist – This is particularly necessary because the people are ignorant and neglectful of the evangel.  How many evangelical churches and ministers have retreated form this, and replaced ‘invasion’ evangelism with ‘invitation’ evangelism?  But we are hardly fulfilling this command if we do more than put up a notice outside our churches saying, ‘All welcome’.  The word must not merely be protected; it must be proclaimed.

‘Although it is true that some Christians have the gift of evangelism more obviously than others, that fact must not discourage active sharing of the gospel by all believers. The Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) and the example of the Book of Acts make clear that witnessing is not simply a responsibility for ordained leaders but for all believers. No single spiritual obligation is more natural for committed believers or more important than the practice of this conviction. Although he recognizes the significance of the work of the apostles in spreading the gospel, M. Green says, “It was axiomatic that every Christian was called on to be a witness to Christ, not only by life but by lip.”  Such is Christ’s desire for the church of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries.’ (NAC)

Discharge all the duties of your ministry – even though the people will run after teachers who will tickle their fancy.

This set of imperatives, serving as a preface to vv6-8, ‘draws a contrast between Timothy, still in the thick of the fight, and Paul who has fought the grand fight’ (Hendriksen)

‘Those difficult days, in which it was hard to gain a hearing for the gospel, were not to discourage Timothy; nor to deter him from his ministry; nor to induce him to trim his message to suit his hearers; still less to silence him altogether; but rather to spur him on to preach the more.  It should be the same with us.  The harder the times and the deafer the people, the clearer and more persuasive our proclamation must be.’ (Stott)

4:6 For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand. 4:7 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! 4:8 Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.

For the first time in these letters to Timothy, we learn that Paul expects his imprisonment to lead to death, that he thinks of his ministry as virtually over, and that the final prize awaits him.

As J.C. Ryle (Holiness, ch 7) remarks, Paul looks, in vv6-8,

  • downward, to the grave, and he does so without fear – ‘the time has come for my departure’;
  • backward over his life of ministry, and he does so without shame – ‘I have fought the good fight’;
  • forward to the great day of reckoning, and he does so without doubt – ‘now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day’.

I – is emphatic: ‘as for me’

Poured out like a drink offering – See Phil 2:17f.  He views his present sufferings as an offering of wine which was poured out before the Lord in the sanctuary (Num 15:5,7,10).

‘He did not think of himself as going to be executed; he thought of himself as going to offer his life to God. Ever since his conversion, he had offered everything to God–his money, his scholarship, his time, the vigour of his body, the acuteness of his mind, the devotion of his heart.  Only life itself was left to offer, and gladly he was going to lay it down.’ (DSB)

‘Consider the…words written by Jim Elliot, the missionary to the Auca Indians who gave his life for the Lord: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”‘ (IVPNTC)

‘It is as if he meant to say, “As long as I was alive, I could stretch out my hand and help you; you have never been without my constant exhortations; my advice has greatly assisted you and my example has been a great source of strength. Now the time is coming when you will have to teach and encourage yourself and begin to swim without support. Take care that nothing in you may be seen to be changed by my death.”’ (Calvin)

The time has come for my departure – the imagery is that of the breaking of camp or the loosing of ship form its moorings.

The word (analusis) he uses for departure is a vivid one. It has many a picture in it and each tells us something about leaving this life. (a) It is the word for unyoking an animal from the shafts of the cart or the plough. Death to Paul was rest from toil. As Spenser had it, ease after toil, port after stormy seas, death after life, are lovely things. (b) It is the word for loosening bonds or fetters. Death for Paul was a release. He was to exchange the confines of a Roman prison for the glorious liberty of the courts of heaven. (c) It is the word for loosening the ropes of a tent. For Paul it was time to strike camp again. Many a journey he had made across the roads of Asia Minor and of Europe. Now he was setting out on his last and greatest journey; he was taking the road that led to God. (d) It is the word for loosening the mooring-ropes of a ship. Many a time Paul had felt his ship leave the harbour for the deep waters. Now he is to launch out into the greatest deep of all, setting sail to cross the waters of death to arrive in the haven of eternity.  So then, for the Christian, death is laying down the burden in order to rest; it is laying aside the shackles in order to be free; it is striking camp in order to take up residence in the heavenly places; it is casting off the ropes which bind us to this world in order to set sail on the voyage which ends in the presence of God. Who then shall fear it?’ (DSB)

‘Already the anchor is weighed, the ropes are slipped, and the boat is about to set sail for another shore.  Now, before the great adventure of his new voyage begins, he looks back over his ministry of about 30 years.’ (Stott)

‘The torch of the gospel is handed down by each generation to the next.  As the leaders of the former generation die, it is all the more urgent for those of the next generation to step forward bravely to take their place…We cannot rest for ever on the leadership of the preceding generation.  The day comes when we must step into their shoes and ourselves take the lead.  That day had come for Timothy.  It comes to all of us in time.’ (Stott)

‘The word departure indicates that when we die we do not completely perish. It is only a departing of the soul from the body. So we infer that death is only a passing of the soul from the body, and this definition contains a testimony to the immortality of the soul.’ (Calvin)

On being ready to depart this life: ‘If it be but a tooth to pull out, the faster it stands the more pain we have to draw it.  O loosen the roots of thy affections from the world, and the tree will fall more easily.’ (Gurnall)

2 Tim 4:7f contain some of the last recorded words of Paul.

It is possible that Paul is using three different kinds of metaphor: military, athletic, and religious.  But it is at least as likely that the imagery is athletic throughout: ““I have competed well in the athletic contest [of life], I have finished the race, I have kept the rules”—not “fouled out” and so been disqualified from winning.’ (EBC)  This would be consistent with what follows in v8, which is also drawn from the athletic arena.

I have fought the good fight – This is an athletic, rather than a military, metaphor.  It could equally mean, ‘I have run the great race’.

This awareness makes a person ready to face death with serenity. John Wesley was asked by a friend, “John, suppose you knew you were going to die by midnight tomorrow. How would you spend your time until then?” I would spend it,” Wesley replied, “exactly as I expect to spend it now. I would preach tonight in Gloucester, get up early tomorrow morning and proceed to Tewkesbury, where I would preach in the afternoon. Then I would go to the Martins’ house in the evening, talk with Mr. Martin, pray with the family, retire, putting myself in the Father’s care, and wake up in heaven.”

I have finished the race – Some years before, when taking his leave of the Ephesians church over which Timothy was now presiding, Paul had expressed the hope that he would accomplish his course, Acts 20:24.

‘We know that runners have achieved their aim when they reach the finishing line. Paul means that death is the goal of Christ’s athletes, since it marks the end of their labors, and also that we should never rest content in this life, since it is of no advantage to have run strongly from the start of the race until the halfway point if we fail to reach the end of the race.’ (Calvin)

‘The believer is to persevere in his Christian course to the end of his life: his work and his life must go off the stage together. This adds weight to every other difficulty of the Christian’s calling. We have known many who have gone into the field, and liked the work of a soldier for a battle or two, but soon have had enough, and come running home again, but few can bear it as a constant trade. Many are soon engaged in holy duties, easily persuaded to take up a profession of religion, and as easily persuaded to lay it down, like the new moon, which shines a little in the first part of the night, but is down before half the night is gone-lightsome professors in their youth, whose old age is wrapped up in thick darkness of sin and wickedness. O, this persevering is a hard word! this taking up the cross daily, this praying always, this watching night and day, and never laying aside our clothes and armour, I mean indulging ourselves, to remit and unbend in our holy waiting on God, and walking with God. This sends many sorrowful away from Christ, yet this is a saint’s duty, to make religion his every-day work, without any vacation from one end of the year to the other.’ (Gurnall)

Walking closely with God in obedience will make our pillows easy at death.  Did you ever hear anyone cry out, at their end: “I have done God’s will too much?”

(Thomas Watson)

I have kept the faith – This either means that Paul has preserved the faith intact (cf 1 Tim 1:10; 2 Tim 1:14), or that he has been loyal to his trust.  Stott and Guthrie think that the former is more likely; Fee and Kelly the latter.

Calvin comments that Paul means ‘either that he was a faithful soldier to his Captain until the end, or that he had continued faithfully in the right teaching. Either sense suits the context well. Indeed, the only way Paul could prove that he was faithful to the Lord was by a constant profession of the pure teaching of the Gospel. I have no doubt that here his allusion is to the soldier’s solemn vow of loyalty, as if he had said that he had always been a good and faithful soldier to his Captain.’

Paul seems here almost to have written his own epitaph.

‘That Christian is happy who, as he quits the world, can leave such testimony behind him. A good conscience will save no man, wash away no sin, not lift us one hair’s breadth towards heaven. Yet a good conscience will be found a pleasant visitor at our bedside in a dying hour. There is a fine passage in Pilgrim’s Progress which describes old Honest’s passage across the river of death. “The river,” says Bunyan, “at that time overflowed its banks in some places; but Mr. Honest in his lifetime had spoken to one Good Conscience to meet him there; the which he also did, and lent him his hand, and so helped him over.” We may be sure, there is a mine of truth in that passage.’ (J.C. Ryle, Holiness)

Now there is in store for me – ‘As Paul has gloried in his good fight, the course finished, and the faith kept, so now he claims that his labors have not been in vain. It is possible to make a great effort and still fail to reach one’s goal. But Paul says that he was certain of his reward. He derives this certainty from turning his eyes to the day of resurrection, and we should do the same.’ (Calvin)

‘There is a remarkable accent on that henceforth…Why, was it not laid up before? yes, but having persevered and come near the goal, being within sight of home, ready to die, he takes now surer hold of the promise.  Indeed, in this sense it is, that a gracious soul is nearer its salvation after every victory than it was before, because he approacheth nearer to the end of his race, which is the time promised for the receiving of the promised salvation, Rom. 13:11.  Then and not till then the garland drops upon his head.’ (Gurnall)

The crown of righteousness – The crown is the laurel wreath that was given to the winner in the games.  ‘The crown of righteousness’ is either (a) the crown which the rightousness will receive; or (b) the crown which consists of righteousness.  Fee seems some merit – and some NT support – in both.

Stott suggests that the verdict implied here is in direct contrast to that which Paul was about to receive from Nero guilty and condemned.

All who have longed for his appearing – ‘The unbeliever, being unjustified, dreads the coming of Christ (if he believes in it or thinks about it at all),  Being unready for it, he will shrink in shame from Christ at his coming.  The believer, on the other hand, having been justified, looks forward to Christ’s coming and has set his heart upon it.  Being ready for it, he will have boldness when Christ appears, 1 Jn 2:28.  Only those who have entered by faith into the benefit of Christ’s first coming are eagerly awaiting his second, cf. Heb 9:28.’ (Stott)

How different is the broad road of the wicked. Kenneth Cober points out that the worldly man’s way of carnal desire terminates in frustration and despair. Lord Byron abandoned himself to the pursuit of pleasure; yet at the age of 35 he wrote,

My days are in the yellow leaf,
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone.

Compare those lines with the words of Adam Clarke, a Christian saint and biblical expositor. At 84, he said, “I have passed through the springtime of my life. I have withstood the heat of its summer. I have culled the fruits of fall. I am even now enduring the rigors of its winter, but at no great distance I see the approach of a new, eternal springtime. Hallelujah!”  Isa 57:2

‘As he neared the end of his life, Paul could confidently say that he had been faithful to his call. Thus he faced death calmly, knowing that he would be rewarded by Christ. Is your life preparing you for death? Do you share Paul’s confident expectation of meeting Christ? The good news is that the heavenly reward is not just for giants of the faith, like Paul, but for all who are eagerly looking forward to Jesus’ second coming. Paul gave these words to encourage Timothy, and us, that no matter how difficult the fight seems-keep fighting. When we are with Jesus Christ, we will discover that it was all worth it.’ (Life Application)

‘Wherever faith is strong, it does not allow our heart to sleep in this world but lifts us up to hope in the final resurrection. Paul means that everyone who is devoted to this world and loves this passing life so much that they do not care about Christ’s coming, and do not feel any desire for it, deprive themselves of immortal glory. Alas for our stupidity that so dominates us that we never think seriously about Christ’s coming, when we should be giving it our complete attention.’ (Calvin)

Travel Plans and Concluding Greetings

4:9 Make every effort to come to me soon. 4:10 For Demas deserted me, since he loved the present age, and he went to Thessalonica. Crescens went to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia.

Demas…has deserted me – ‘And if one of Paul’s assistants became weary and discouraged and was afterwards drawn away by the vanity of the world, let none of us rely too much on our own zeal lasting even one year, but remembering how much of the journey still lies ahead, let us ask God for steadfastness.’ (Calvin)

Christian failure is seldom a blowout; it is usually a slow leak.

“None will have such a sad parting from Christ, as those who went half-way with him and then left him.” (Gurnall)

Because he loved this world – The verb is agapeo, indicating that we should be cautious about pushing the meaning of that word too far in the direction of ‘self-denying love for the sake of others’. See Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 31f.

Although we assume that the absence of Demas from Paul’s side was due to apostasy on his part, it has been suggested that it may have been due to a godly love for the lost of this world, which led to him departing on a missionary expedition of his own.  But the more usual interpretation is also the more likely.

4:11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is a great help to me in ministry.

Only Luke is with me – ‘It may be that some differences in wording between, say, the Pastoral letters and the rest of the Pauline corpus turn on the probability that Luke was the amanuensis for the former, which contain a substantial number of turns of phrase more typical of Luke’s own writings.’ (NBC)

Taking vv10-13 together we can see that Paul, great apostle that he was, was lonely, cold and bored (to borrow Stott’s summary).

4:12 Now I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
4:13 When you come, bring with you the cloak I left in Troas with Carpas and the scrolls, especially the parchments.

Bring…my scrolls, especially the parchments – ‘He is inspired, yet he wants books! He has been preaching for at least thirty years, yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, yet he wants books! He has had a wider experience than most men, yet he wants books! He has been caught up into the third heaven, and has heard things which it is unlawful to utter, yet he wants books! He has written the major part of the New Testament, yet he wants books!’ (C.H. Spurgeon)  Haddon Robinson, who alludes to these words of Spurgeon, add, ‘Paul had no more sermons to prepare and no more books or letters to write, but he needed to keep on reading. Even though life was running out on him, Paul needed his books.’ (The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, eds Robinson & Larson, ch. 20)

William Tyndale, the great Bible translator, was trapped by henchment of Henry VIII and imprisoned in the dungeon of Vilvorde Castle at Antwerp.  In his last letter before he was executed in 1536 he asked that he might have

a warmer cap, for I suffer greatly from the cold…a warmer coat also for what I have is very thin; a piece of cloth with which to patch me leggings.  And I ask to have a lamp in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark.  But most of all I beg and beseech your clemency that the commissary will kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, grammar and dictionary, that I may continue with my work.

Although John Wesley declared himself to be ‘a man of one book’, he read widely on many different subjects, and prepared for the press many other books. When a certain George Bell said that he read only the Bible, Wesley recounts the consequence. ‘”And what is the fruit? Why, now he neither reads the Bible nor anything else. This is rank enthusiasm. If you need no book but the Bible, you are got above St. Paul. He wanted others too…”But I have no taste for reading.” Contract a taste for it by use, or return to your trade.’

J.N. Darby lived and preached for many years among the rustic country people of Ireland. One day an unbeliever challenged Darby, saying, “You claim that all Scripture is profitable. What possible earthly value could a verse like 2 Tim 4:13 have?” Darby replied, “When I left my ecclesiastical position to come here to live among these simple”] people, it was this verse that kept me from selling off my theology books!

Illuminism: ‘It is not the work of the Spirit to tell you the meaning of Scripture, and give you the knowledge of divinity, without your own study and labour, but to bless that study, and give you knowledge thereby…To reject study on pretence of the sufficiency of the Spirit, is to reject the Scripture itself.’ (Richard Baxter)

4:14 Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him in keeping with his deeds. 4:15 You be on guard against him too, because he vehemently opposed our words.
4:16 At my first defense no one appeared in my support; instead they all deserted me—may they not be held accountable for it.

Defence apologia, a formal courtroom defence.

4:17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message would be fully proclaimed for all the Gentiles to hear. And so I was delivered from the lion’s mouth!
4:18 The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever! Amen.
4:19 Greetings to Prisca and Aquila and the family of Onesiphorus.
4:20 Erastus stayed in Corinth. Trophimus I left ill in Miletus.
4:21 Make every effort to come before winter. Greetings to you from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters.
4:22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.