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How to Read the Bible Book by Book: 2 Timothy

2 Timothy 1:7-8: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.

One practice that has fallen out of favor in the church of the modern era is that of disfellowshipping. If you are like me, you probably don’t remember a time in the recent past when a member was disfellowshipped for falling into a life of sin. In many ways this is understandable and can even be good. One can imagine a time in the past when legalistic people enforced such things upon the church, and disfellowshipping was used as a means of power and manipulation. As far as that goes, I am glad those days are gone. But sometimes when there is abuse on one side, we fall into error on the other. If in the past, disfellowshipping was an overused practice, in the present it may be a neglected one.

Beyond past abuse, it is not hard to understand why people are reluctant to use such means today. When a person is disfellowshipped over sin, they do not take it well. Normally they will lash out for having been confronted, and often they become enemies of those who confront them, and of the church in general. No one is anxious to have that happen.

Well, it may be helpful to us to understand that Paul knows just what this is like. It is not often recognized that in the first letter that was written to Timothy, Paul mentioned a man he had recently disfellowshipped. His name was Alexander (1 Tim 1:20), and Paul speaks of him in the context of those who have shipwrecked their faith. Paul says in his first letter that he has handed Alexander over Satan in order that he might be taught not to blaspheme. Apparently, Alexander was slow to learn such a lesson, because when we come to the letter of 2nd Timothy, this Alexander seems to be the source of Paul’s troubles and sorrows.

The letter of 2 Timothy is written several years after the first. Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote the first letter, and he was trying to encourage Timothy not to be timid in his ministry in Ephesus, but to go to work setting that church in order. He needed to confront false teachers, establish elders, arrange for the care of widows, and other practical things. In this second letter, Paul is once again in prison in Rome, but this is not a part of the same imprisonment. We learn from this letter that Paul had been released from his first imprisonment and was allowed to resume his mission. But something has happened that has brought Paul to prison again. It appears from 4:13-15 that Paul was arrested in Troas, which is where this Alexander was from, and he may have had something to do with Paul getting in trouble. This is why disfellowshipping feels so dangerous to us. They may come for revenge. It appears that Alexander did that very thing, and it has led to Paul’s imprisonment, and will likely lead to his death.

So why is Paul writing a second letter to Timothy? A couple of reasons. Number one, he wants Timothy to come and see him soon because he knows his time is short (2 Tim 4:9-13). He was taken from Troas, and therefore left many of his books and materials there. He wants Timothy to bring them as he comes. Second, he wants to infuse courage into Timothy. As we learned in the first letter, Timothy seems predisposed by nature to be a bit timid. Now that Paul is in prison and likely not to get out, this may have injected more fear and anxiety in Timothy in regard to his ministry. Paul still wants him to preach the gospel. Paul still wants him to confront false teachers. Paul still wants him to be willing to suffer for the gospel. He knows Timothy needs the encouragement.

The letter itself breaks down into three different appeals. The first appeal goes from 1:6 to 2:13. Here Paul is reminding Timothy to fan into flame the gift that was passed on to him as Paul and other elders commissioned him to be a minister of the gospel. He reminds Timothy that the grace that God gives should not make him timid but bold. Paul uses his own life as an example of this, and what Timothy has heard from Paul he is to keep as the pattern of sound teaching. Since he will be leaving Ephesus to visit Paul in prison, he is to entrust the things he has learned to other reliable men who will be able to teach the church in his absence.

The second appeal goes from 2:14 to 3:9. In this section Paul once again takes up the subject of false teachers and how they are to be opposed. It is a shame that this is such a recurrent problem in the church, but it seems to be one of Satan’s primary strategies in undermining gospel work. Paul reminds Timothy that in this “final days” people will be lovers of money, boastful, proud, arrogant, abusive, slanderous, and plenty of other things besides. So he should not be surprised that the gospel finds such opposition.

The third appeal goes from 3:10 to 4:8. Here, Paul speaks much more personally. Timothy is aware of Paul’s teaching and manner of life and is encouraged to use it as the model for his own ministry. He can rely upon scripture, which is the inspired word of God that is useful for all the work of ministry. The final charge of the letter is to preach this word, in season and out of season—that is, when people want to hear it, and even when they don’t. Through the work of preaching, he is to correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. Unfortunately, Paul predicts a time to come when people will not put up with sound doctrine and teaching. But Paul encourages Timothy to keep his head and do the work of an evangelist who builds up the congregation with the Word of the Gospel.

Even though 2 Timothy is listed among the pastoral epistles, it really has a more general use. It gives courage to all of us who are tempted to be timid in our faith. We have a great calling and important work to do. Let us not shrink from the task but keep the faith with courage and resilience.

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