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?
As 1 Timothy 1 draws to a close, lets imagine being Timothy for a moment.
He was a young man who was given an intimidating mission. He had to challenge and oppose existing leaders with no assurance of how they will respond. Paul calls Timothy to “wage good warfare”, which suggests that he will experience trials, opposition, and sacrifice. Paul states that he is on mission to another place, so there is no backup to call upon. Finally, in 2 Timothy 1 we see Paul encouraging Timothy to not be shy or ashamed of the gospel; an encouragement only needed if Timothy was feeling the pressure of his charge. In light of all of this, perhaps we can understand if there was any trepidation in Timothy.
However Paul provides some wonderfully encouraging reasons for Timothy to be of good courage as he steps onto the frontline. Lets look at them together, and draw fresh confidence in the midst of our own challenges:
- Paul trusted Timothy
As Timothy fought on battleground of gospel advance, he would have read the words “… I entrusted to you…” and I’m sure it would have brought instant assurance. Assurance that would have strengthened him to persevere, because the one who knew him the most had entrusted him. Paul writes affectionately of their intimate relationship, and he also writes of the confidence he has in Timothy to carry out this task. I’m certain this vote of confidence would have warmed his heart and strengthened his resolve.
- Timothy could rest on prophesies
After this statement of fatherly trust, Paul then reminds Timothy that God has already spoken and equipped him for the mission he was on. Clearly Timothy had received prophetic words at a young age, and Paul says that the mission Timothy had in Ephesus fitted the words that God had previously given him. God was guiding Timothy, empowering and encouraging him into church leadership, and Paul was reminding Timothy of the great assurance this brings. As someone who also received prophetic words at a young age, I feel that I can emphasize and speak for Timothy when I say that prophetic words can excite and energize us to attempt things on the mission field that we know are beyond ourselves. God has intervened – God has spoken – God’s power is inside us! We will not falter and His purposes will be accomplished!
- Timothy already experienced gospel power himself
Finally, Paul references the ‘faith’ and ‘good conscience’ that he first states in verse 5. The purpose of the repetition is to remind Timothy that he has already experienced the awe-inspiring power of Gospel transformation! This transformation produces attributes in us that wouldn’t otherwise be there, and this is God equipping us for what He has called us to. Timothy’s faith and conscience is proof of God’s Spirit working in Him, and Paul says, “by them you may wage the good warfare.”
One of the many, many reasons I find Jesus compelling is that Jesus doesn’t sell us an unrealistic view of life. He clearly prepares us for the various challenges we face in a fallen world, and for Timothy this looked like arrogant teachers shipwrecking their own faith and causing others to wander away from gospel truth. However God, through the words of Paul, provides various sources of encouragement that increases our confidence and empowers us to face our challenges head on.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- What mission / purpose has God given you in your current season of life?
- What challenges are you going through right now as you try to live out this mission?
- How does the gospel truth found in Paul’s words build confidence in you?
- From this passage, what do you think is the purpose of God encouraging you to greater confidence?
Paul doesn’t boost Timothy’s confidence by talking about his qualities and strengths. Fresh from recounting his own unimpressive and humbling testimony, Paul only speaks of what has happened to Timothy. God has given Timothy a loving father figure to mentor him, prophetic words to guide him and gospel transformation to empower him. Confident leaders are NOT confident in themselves. Confident leaders are confident because DESPITE of themselves, God is gracefully working through them for His great glory.