For an introduction to this series, click here.
October 26, 2007
Here we have Paul wrapping up his legacy. Here is a piece of his advice to Timothy:
"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2:1-2)
This is a very important message. Yes, God has promised to preserve the church, but He preserves it through us. It is the responsibility of the leaders of the church to preserve sound doctrine.
"Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops." (2:3-6)
The Christian life is not easy. Paul makes three analogies here, and all of them have a different message: the soldier, the athlete and the gardener. A soldier must learn to endure through all sorts of hardship and he must not be distracted by the things of civilian life that keep him from doing his work. The athlete must work to prepare and work to win the contest, but he must also play by the rules. The rules, of course, for the Christian are those found in the Bible that have been passed down by the faithful men. The gardener works hard all year, but there are rewards: he gets the first taste of the fruit. Even so, there are rewards for the Christian.
"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." (2:8-10)
There are a few Christians who take the doctrine of election to such an extreme as to say there is no need for evangelism. And some who doubt election paint everyone who holds to it with that broad brush: that they don't believe in preaching the Gospel to the lost. Paul defies the stereotype: he believed in election and he was passionate about spreading the Gospel. Paul traveled hundreds of miles on foot, suffered beatings, imprisonments and all sorts of mistreatment so he could share in the reward of leading the elect to salvation.
"The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself." (2:11-13)
This is an important passage about the judgment. God rewards us in the same way we act on earth. God is faithful and will not kick us out if we are really bad, but we will lose rewards. Whether or not it is possible for someone genuinely born again to deny Christ is something I leave to the experts. I don't think it is possible, but I guess that comes down to how you defy "deny." If someone cracks under extreme physical and mental duress, that is different from someone who openly and repeatedly denies Christ.
"Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some." (2:14-18)
Paul was fearless when defending the faith, even mentioning false teachers by name. I think more good pastors and teachers need to mention some of the false teachers in our day by name and explain why they are wrong. You would need to be prudent about it, but people need to know to avoid false doctrine. Of course they will recognize false doctrine when they are taught the truth, as the first part of the passage tells us.
"Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels." (2:20-23, ESV)
I think what Paul is saying here is that in the visible body of Christ, the church at large (the "great house"), there are good and bad people, similar to Jesus' teaching in parables like the tares and the wheat and the fishing net. Those who are genuinely born again and striving to be a vessel for honor for the Lord will cast off the dishonorable vessels: false teachers, false believers, etc. I know this is very different from a similar analogy that Paul uses in Romans 9. But given the context, I think the lesson Paul wants us to learn here is that we can become a vessel of honor.
We are given a lot of advice when it comes to resisting temptation. But when it comes to sexual lust, there is only one solution: flee! We are playing with fire if we think we can handle this temptation. We need to avoid opportunities for temptation, and if we find ourselves in a situation, we need to get out of it like Joseph did.
Once again Paul mentions that Timothy needs to avoid getting bogged down in Biblical minutiae. This is good advice for us, too.