Author: Tom Moffat
As we reach the end of this combined study of 1 & 2 Timothy, there is so much to say. I need a blog for each point in this section! There is a lot to be said for the relational dynamic in the gospel advance as seen in verses 9 to 16 and in 19 to 21. There is a lot to be said about the continual need to believe that God will help you persevere in the faith in the face of overwhelming challenges, as seen in verses 16 to 18. I also think there is much to say about our agency in the mission of God – as Paul is so clearly aware throughout this book and this chapter that the gospel advance will continue long after him, and its spread is not dependent on any one person for its success.
However, I think that all of these topics fall under Paul’s words in verses 6-7, as we see the heart of the man who gave everything he had for the mission of God.
I grew up reading stories of “wide eyed radicals” and “dreamers of the day”; men and women who would give up their whole lives for the mission God had called them to. Whether it was reading books like ‘Jesus Freaks’ and ‘The Heavenly Man’, or various biographies from giants in the faith such as Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor or Olaudah Equiano; these stories of radical living and lifelong sacrifice stirred my faith in a simple truth; Jesus is worth everything we have to give.
Paul fits this mold of “wide eyed radicals”. Perhaps the original in the early church movement. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes his final words, in the final chapter of his final book, in his final moments this side of glory. It is a summary of a lifetime of service to God and His bride, and as we lean in, we will discover some amazing truths to fuel our perseverance in the mission…
“6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
– 2 Timothy 4:6-7
Paul here is drawing from Old Testament sacrificial language to convey the summarizing thought of his earthly life. There was nothing left, no reserves, just a complete emptying out of everything Paul had to give to the mission of God, because of his passionate devotion to God. It’s not a sacrifice to earn the Father’s approval, or to attain spiritual salvation. Paul’s sacrifice is joyfully and enthusiastically offered up precisely because his approval and salvation has already been graciously given! He lived with a sense of joyful significance, as he was included in God’s gloriously good purposes for all creation. It’s the response to salvation, not a prerequisite for salvation.
Paul also draws from his own writing from earlier New Testament letters, as well as these two letters to Timothy, and he uses military and athletic language to claim that God’s mission was worthy of every sacrifice he ever made. The military language fits the pattern set throughout 1 & 2 Timothy, and in using the metaphors of “fight” and “race” Paul is intentionally using very active and energetic language. His life is an example of what it looks like to be wonderfully consumed with the dreams and endeavors of gospel advance.
If you listen to the tone of the text, you can almost hear the joy and relief in verse 7, as Paul marvels in the wonderful preservation of God in every act of service Paul had ever done. The passive verb in verse 6, “I am being poured out”, is Paul’s way of communicating God is the one who was at work in Paul’s life, empowering every moment and preserving his faith until the end.
Earlier this year I heard two older pastors, at a similar phase of life to Paul, quoting Colossians 1:29, where Paul says “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul, in both Colossians and 2 Timothy, shows a total dependence on God for his own preservation. It would be arrogant to think that any of his achievements were his own. Paul spends 2 Corinthians reminding us how just how unimpressive and dependent he truly is. There is a great truth here, that Paul has spent his whole life demonstrating. Our perseverance is only possible through Gods preservation. He keeps us. He empowers us. And He gets all the glory.
From these two verses, we can almost picture Paul running through the gates of heaven, hands lifted high, proclaiming the goodness of the Almighty to the roar of all of redemption. Don’t you want that same magnificent moment? No reserves. No regrets. Completing your life on the mission that is worth everything you have to give.
 Phrases from Simon Guillebauld’s excellent book, “More Than Conquerors.”
 “Ray Ortlund and Sam Storms on Finishing Well in Ministry”. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/churches-planting-churches/id1069930513
Believing in the bible is unfashionable. This is because the bible is absolute truth in a fake news world. Declaring fidelity to the very words of God won’t win you may friends, or provide credibility in discussions with those who don’t know Jesus. In this setting, it can feel increasingly hard to treasure the gift of God’s words to us.
2 Timothy 4 is a continuation of Paul’s comments in chapter 3, where he spent time exposing the sinfulness of the world and gave Timothy some specific tips to combatting the sinfulness around him as he leads the church in Ephesus. Timothy was encouraged to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, … how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings” Paul is making it clear, the way Timothy was to protect himself and model holiness in the church was to treasure and rely on the power of the word of God. Timothy had clearly spent his whole life being shaped by the Word of God, and Paul is eager that this transformative effect keeps going.
Paul’s argument in chapters 3 and 4 is that when we trust and rely on the Word of God, it will empower both our pursuit of holiness and our missional effectiveness in the world.
How can the bible aid our pursuit of holiness in a world full of sinfulness? Well Paul says in 3:16 “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This is something he repeats in 4:2 when he says, “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” The bible is inspired by God, as His means of revealing Himself and causing faith in the world, and therefore it is eternally relevant in our lives, no matter the situation we are in. It can be used to build up the people of God, through training and teaching, and it can be used to in the fight against ungodliness, through challenging the sin around us and restore people towards righteousness. There is never a moment or situation that the bible is irrelevant or untrustworthy in. Absolute truth is absolutely trustworthy.
These are the final words, in the final chapter of the final book to his spiritual son Timothy. And so, with his final words Paul leaves Timothy his final command; “preach the word.” In other words, make Jesus known by communicating the bible. As Ellicott’s commentary states: “the language of the original here is abrupt and emphatic, written evidently under strong emotion and with intense earnestness.” Do you sense the importance and earnestness of Paul’s tone when you re-read this? Can you feel the communication of his deep love and confidence in the word of God.
Paul’s message to Timothy is the same as God’s message to us today. Our effectiveness in living for God in the world is linked to our dependency on the bible. We cannot stray from complete dedication to the bible and total surrender to God’s Word. Our personal holiness depends on it. Our public proclamation depends on it. Build your life on a deep trust in the inspired words of God.
 I have used the word final here, even though this is not Paul’s last command to Timothy (that is 4:21 “do your best to come”). My use of the word ‘final’ conveys the final emphasis of Paul’s heart to Timothy’s – Paul’s great and lasting charge.
*Authors Note: We have been looking at the Christmas story these last few days, so it might be worth going back to our last devotional on 2 Timothy 2 so you are familiar with the book again. Paul is writing his final words to Timothy, and is discussing themes of leadership, suffering, perseverance and holiness.
Ever looked in a mirror and not liked what you saw? Ever had that flow of dread run through your body when you saw something that you wish wasn’t there? Maybe your hair was having a crazy day, or the pimple quadrupled in size, or that smudge you thought you’d rubbed off was actually still there.
Reading 2 Timothy 3 is ugly and painful. It is painful because it sounds eerily familiar. In the previous chapter we saw Paul urging us Timothy (and us) to pursue a holy perseverance in the midst of challenges around him, and now in this chapter we get a striking description of those challenges. With surgical precision, Paul exposes societal sin that feels like a modern day commentary of our own cultural moment.
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
Do you feel the awkwardness of these verses? I visibly shrunk lower on my chair when I read this. It grieved me in my heart, because these are the sins so clearly seen in the world around us. People who care only for their own self-advancement in life. People passionately pursuing money that corrupts the soul. People so desperate for pleasure that they will participate in self-destructive patterns of behaviour. We should not be surprised; the outworking of sin has a familiar historic pattern. Furthermore, we are not facing any new version of sin today that has not challenged the church before. Sin is sin, and godlessness is destructive wherever it goes.
Let me pick up on one of these societal sins that Paul is exposing, and demonstrate why it feels like it is a critique of our society today. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions…” In verses 3 & 4 we see the seeds of violence (“abusive”, “brutal”, “without self control”), but verse 6 seems like contemporary resistance against Gender Based Violence. A society without God is a society in sin, and in a society infected with sin we will always find the sinful pursuit of evil desires, such as we have right now in this country. This passage is hard to read, just as every new story of the abuse of women by men becomes more and more painful to digest. We must connect the current crisis of Gender Based Violence with the spiritual degradation of our society. Look at how Paul exposes and challenges the societal sins of his day. This is a charge and a challenge to us to do the same – we should not stay silent.
Paul’s immediate response to the societal sins that threaten to compromise our holiness is to “avoid such people” (v5), having followed his godly example (v10) and to continue living out the truth that we believe (v14) by relying on the bibles power and relevance in all situations (v16). This correlates with Paul’s deliberate and fatherly concern for the holiness of believers that runs throughout 1 & 2 Timothy.
I have been so struck by the way Paul exposes societal ungodliness that I want to suggest that we should have a similar understanding of our cultural moment. In John 17:14-16 we read that as believers we have been intentionally sent into the world by God to make Him known by proclaiming the gospel. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 has made this our core purpose. Therefore, as we pursue this great aim, part of our proclamation must involve a cultural analysis of what societal sin the gospel must confront.
As we consider the society around us, where is the brokenness? Where are people hurting? What patterns of sin are there? What self-destructive behaviors do the people in our communities regularly pursue? What ideologies/political thoughts/worldviews/perspectives of morality to people claim to? Where must the church challenge cultural norms? Who is being marginalized and cast aside?
In our cultural milieu, we must learn from Paul and use the gospel to challenge Gender Based Violence, the ongoing injustice caused by the legacy of Apartheid, politically divisive rhetoric, growing inequality, a pursuit of sinful and self –destructive passions as well as the elevation of the individual before all other things.
For the gospel to transform people of any culture, the church must endeavor to study and participate in that culture. The gospel can only be good news to the people around us when it is seen as the answer to all brokenness and sin in their lives. Trevin Wax states: “As we learn to identify the prevailing worldviews of society, we look for ways to present the gospel of Jesus in ways that are more likely to resonate.”
Study the world around you. Participate in it. It will increase the effectiveness of your gospel proclamation to it.
Can you sense it? Christmas is not what it should be. Everywhere we turn, the world around us has become so fixated on what we have made Christmas to be. The decorated nativity sets that you have to dust off once a year. The wrapped gifts that bring instant joy but never seem to fully satisfy. The fake smiles as families (try to) get along. If we are not careful, Christmas can become a manufactured event that fails to satisfy and can rob us of genuine joy, and our only defense from these cultural forces is to remember why Christmas happened.
In this long passage of scripture, we get several beautiful moments that remind us of the purpose of Christmas. Lets look at two of these moments from the Christmas story. They should act as a reminder to us of why we needed a saviour to come to us.
“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
These are the angel Gabriel’s words about John the Baptist, however they reveal something about the spiritual state of the people of God that should be very sobering for us today. There was a need for the people of God to change, and they clearly could not do this themselves. They needed John to “turn” them towards the coming saviour, Jesus Christ. If Gabriel said that they needed to turn towards God, it meant that they were previously turned against God. The people of God also needed John to “make ready…a people prepared”, which means that previously they were not prepared. They were not ready because they were stuck in their sin and “disobedience”. Lets not be fooled friends, Romans 3 makes it clear that this wasn’t just the spiritual state of the people of God then – it is the state of every single person before God changes things. We are all stuck in our sin and disobedience. No one is righteous, no one understands salvation and no one even tries to seek God.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
6 Months later, there is a new revelation in the Christmas story that can bring us all hope. This time the angel Gabriel reveals God’s plan to meet our desperate need. Jesus Christ, “the Son of the Most High”, will come to win His people back by forgiving their sins and giving them eternal life. He will do this coming to Earth, living among the creation that He Himself created and showing love to the most unlovable. Notice that in Gabriel’s description of Jesus, there is a lot of intentional references to the Old Testament. “The throne of David”, “the house of Jacob” and even the concept of “His Kingdom” are all references to the OT, revealing that this was the plan all along. God’s mission was always leading to the time when He would put on flesh. The Old Testament promises were yearning for the coming of Jesus for its fulfillment. God Himself would meet the most desperate need of all humankind.
In the first moment from today’s passage, God reveals our desperate need for a saviour. In the second passage, God reveals His plan to be the saviour that we so desperately need. This is the Christmas story. This is what we miss if we are not careful with our holidays.
At the end of verse 17, John the Baptist is given a mission to make people prepared. So are you prepared for the Christmas story of the Gospel? Are you ready for God’s amazing plan to meet your most desperate need? John Piper writes “Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready.” So don’t get lost over Christmas. Don’t be so distracted by a world that always promises what it never delivers. Remember why Jesus came to Earth. Remember that He came for you. Remember that He came to fulfill our desperate need for a saviour.
What would your final words be?
Imagine you were a CEO of a startup company, a leading figure of a research project or a key member in your field of expertise, and you knew what you were writing would be your final words to your successor. That scenario isn’t too dissimilar to Paul’s life as he was writing 2 Timothy around 64-67 AD. He finds himself in prison, awaiting a certain fate of death, with very few people around him. After a lifetime of church planting, preaching and raising leaders, Paul knows his final efforts will be to encourage his spiritual son in the faith.
It’s helpful to visualise the situation Paul is writing in, as it provides some clarity in an otherwise confusing section of scripture. At first glance, chapter 2 seems a whirlwind of different themes that Paul is mixing together. He’s discussing leadership, holiness, perseverance and false teachers in a manner so unlike the structured theological masterpieces of Romans or Ephesians. However, with an understanding of Paul’s context, we as the readers, are given a glimpse of Paul’s overall reflections of ministry, as well as his final words of encouragements to us.
Within this book of Paul’s final words, there consists an encouragement for Timothy to persevere in faithful ministry.
If anyone would know the challenges that Timothy will face, it would be the Apostle Paul. He was sitting in a jail cell, waiting for his promotion into the grandstands of Heaven. He was the guy who was kidnapped and stoned to an inch of his life (Acts 21). The man who survived a shipwreck, only to be bitten by a viper (Acts 27 & 28). Paul was the guy who wrote and boasted in his various sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), so that God would be praised. Paul knows exactly what he is encouraging Timothy into when he says “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus”.
Many of us today do not live with a readiness, a willingness, to embrace and fight through the challenges that will come as we try to live for Jesus. Maybe this is because we so easily forget that we live in a spiritual warzone. When Paul says “share in suffering”, what he is communicating is that there is a share of suffering that every believer should brace themselves for. If we live as we ought to, transformed and compelled by the gospel, then we should expect trials, opposition, temptations and sufferings to face us. Sin won’t go down without a fight. The devil is still prowling around. Cultural ideologies such as individualism, sinful temptations of materialism and political tactics of division have already taken out the sincere faith of many believers.
One of the questions that we all need to face up to as a matter of urgency is this: Are you ready for the inevitability of suffering? The hardest rugby tackles are the ones you don’t see coming. They are the ones that cause injuries. Paul’s words are a caring and compassionate plea to Timothy and to us; that we would be prepared for wartime living.
Our perseverance comes from remembering and trusting in Jesus’ work in our lives. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead…” This section runs parallel to the first chapter of the book, and it reminds us that our perseverance does not come from ourselves. We are meant to trust and rely in our savior’s ongoing work in our lives. Our perseverance is inseparable from the resurrection of Jesus, to His victory and the certainty of our success in the mission field. This is also why Paul says, “therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect”, because there are people who have been elected (chosen) by God, and Paul knows that their conversion is an absolute certainty. The truth that God is electing, preserving and empowering us will produce endurance inside of us.
Finally, our perseverance produces faithfulness and glorifies God. This is where Paul ties in our holiness with our faithful perseverance. To be ‘preserved’ is not just to make it to the end of our lives without sin taking us out. To be preserved is a call to fight for holiness in our lives. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.” As we are preserved by God to continually endure through our sufferings, it is a testament of the faithfulness that God is working in our lives and displaying to the people around us. We should “flee” from sin and “pursue” a transformed pure heart. Then we too will be able to say, along with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, that we have “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- What kinds of challenges should we expect as we live for God in the world today?
- Why do you think Paul’s using his final words to encourage us to keep persevering?
- What do you need to flee from in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?
- What do you need to pursue more in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?
Throughout the book of 1 Timothy, we have regularly encountered Paul’s commentary on both good and bad leadership; as well as the central theme of holiness. He maintains a determined passion to oppose bad leadership (which we looked at yesterday) and to encourage true leadership that flows from holiness. At this stage, we can all see the inseparable connection of leadership and holiness.
Remember before Timothy arrives, the existing leadership of the church in Ephesus had plunged the church into crisis. These leaders lacked the moral character, godly desires and competent gifts required to lead God’s people (1:6-7, 19-20, 3:6-8, 4:1-3, 6:4-5). However, through the words of Paul, we can see leaders who inspire trust because of holy character (3:2-12), who build the church to fulfill its purpose (3:15), who sacrificially serve the people God has entrusted to them (5:17) and who are wholeheartedly committed to a radical pursuit of holiness (2:2, 8, 10, 3:2-13, 4:6-10, 16, 6:6-7, 11-16).
As we have already seen from this chapter, leadership flows from the heart. Yesterday we saw that bad leadership comes from a heart full of ‘evil roots’. Contrastingly, Paul now goes on to describe & encourage Timothy towards godly leadership, which flows from a heart that has been radically transformed by the power of the gospel. Let us consider three characteristics of godly leadership:
Firstly, godly leadership flows from a leaders identity in Christ. “But as for you, O man of God…” Paul describes Timothy as a man belonging to God. It is such a simple phrase, so easy to overlook in a chapter with so much being discussed, and yet it might possibly be the most powerful statement! That is because there is power in knowing that we belong to another. God had to change us, redeem us, remove our sins, pardon us in His court, reconcile us to Himself and transform our hearts from stone to flesh. It is a fundamental change of our entire identity, which inevitably leads to a change in how we live. This simple, powerful statement is the foundation of all good and godly leadership. Our belonging to God enables our living for God.
Secondly, godly leadership involves a proactive participation in a relationship with God and a pursuit of personal holiness. If leaders belong to God, they are therefore empowered to “flee” and to “pursue” (verse 11), to “fight” and to “take hold” (verse 12), “to keep the commandment” (verse 14), to “charge” (verse 17), to “guard” and finally to “avoid” (verse 20). This passage is full of verbs and commands, clearly communicating that the life of a leader involves a lot of action! This is a summary of a central theme in the whole book: believers must actively pursue and train themselves in godliness. Leadership flows out of who God has made us to be and how He is empowering us to live.
Finally, godly leadership looks to the future. Leaders regularly recall the eternal reality of Jesus’ victory and our glorious future with him. “…until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.” Paul here is breaking out into another moment of doxology (praise) as he is himself amazed at who God is – its like he can’t contain himself! However Paul also has a deeply theological foundation that he is communicating here. This future when the victorious King Jesus comes back for His church is a certain reality that we are all moving towards. This is our certain hope. This will be the fruit of our labour. It motivates and preserves all that leaders do now.
These marks of godly leadership summarise the central themes of leadership and holiness throughout the book, and they form Paul’s concluding remarks. They will keep us in the love of God, embolden us to keep serving His mission in the world and stir us to keep pursuing a deep and transformative relationship with Him. What a powerful encouragement for us all.
Grace be with you.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- As we have reached the end of the book, what concluding thoughts do you have on good and bad leadership?
- How is your life characterized by the kind of intentional pursuit of holiness that we read in 1 Tim 6?
- How does a gospel shaped certainty in the future encourage us to live and lead for Jesus now?
Before we jump into the end of this book, there are two small caveats about how this book has been split up/structured that might be helpful here as we continue reading:
- The bible is the perfect and authoritative Word of God, and yet the chapters and verses we use to structure it were added much later on. This means occasionally we get a chapter that starts in a strange way (for example, Acts 8, 1 Timothy 6 or Hebrews 12). When’s this happens, we should go back to the previous chapter to remind us of what the author is speaking about. In 1 Timothy 6, verses 1 and 2 seem to be the end of the discussion of chapter 5, and from verse 3 onwards we enter a new section.
- You might, just like me, read verses 1-2 and hit a big cultural mine (if you are unsure what I mean by this phrase, go back to our post on 1 Tim 2). These verses discuss slavery in a way that can lead to some confusion. I personally prefer the translations that use the word “bondservant” to “slave” because it is far more descriptive of the socio-cultural landscape in the 1st century. If you hit the cultural stumbling block, like me, you may find this article by Common Ground helpful to read. They are a partner church in the Advance network of churches, and it’s great to see these resources being produced! https://commonground.co.za/?resources=why-does-the-bible-condone-slavery
Now getting into the chapter!
1 Timothy contains a clear writing structure that was designed by Paul to communicate his central purposes. There are consistent themes that run throughout, moments of praise (doxology) that break up different sections, and two bookends at either side of this short letter. We can think of them as the two pillars at either end of a building that help to keep everything else standing. Without these pillars, there would be no context to Paul’s words. Everything would feel random and out of place, because we would miss the context in which Paul is writing to Timothy.
The pillars are the sections where Paul directly confronts the bad leadership in the Ephesian church. In both chapters 1 and 6, Paul charges Timothy to confront bad leadership and to model godly leadership. Today, we look at how Paul characterises bad leadership; and tomorrow we get to see how he encourages Timothy towards good leadership.
This has been a repeated theme throughout the book, the essential combination of leadership and holiness, and Paul highlights it here by examining both good and bad leadership. Lets look at some of the marks of bad leadership that Paul provided us with:
- Bad leadership rejects the person and teachings of Jesus (v3)
- It grows from greed and a self-centeredness in the heart (v4)
- It leads to irrational and sinful thinking (v5)
- It is motivated by a desire for worldly gain of some kind (5)
- It will result in the destruction of themselves and others (v9)
It seems relatively clear here that Paul sees all of the physical acts of these false leaders, and yet he shoots straight for the heart. In leadership, never satisfy yourself with the surface level symptoms. Gods Word always cuts to the heart (Acts 2:37) and transforms our deep roots. The root sin here is exposed in verse 10 as an unhealthy love of money. And this love of money brings “all kinds of evil”.
Look how dangerous sinful leadership is. It’s no surprise Paul isn’t pulling his punches here. Chapter 6 sounds similar to chapter one, but it also seems like an escalation. For example, in chapter one, the effect of bad leadership on other people was “swerving & wandering” (1:6), but now it’s “plunging people into ruin and destruction” (6:9).
We should not play games with bad leadership. It’s warfare. It’s live or die stuff. It should not be flirted with or entertained, because it’s destructive power has eternal consequences. However, we should also be weary of our own hearts, and where we’d might see some of these marks of bad leadership in ourselves. We should interrogate our hearts and minds. We should reaffirm our commitment to serving and living for his kingdom. Friends, let’s hear the warnings.
Some Questions To Consider
- Why do you think Paul brings up this theme of bad leadership again?
- What roots of bad leadership do you see in the world and church today?
- Are there any roots in your own heart that you need to repent of?
A godly leader should be especially aware of the state of their own heart, and should hold an appropriate fear of the Lord to remain constantly prayerful that He might keep and protect against any roots of evil that might start to grow.