John Calvin, the great theologian and preacher of the Protestant Reformation, had this to say about I and II Timothy: he said, “What I owe to these two epistles to TImothy can never be told.” In other words, he couldn’t say enough about them and their effect on his life. II Timothy is one of the great heart-warming letters of the Scriptures. It has been called Paul’s last will and testament to Timothy, and through him to the church.
Try to imagine how Timothy must have felt when he received this letter from his friend and spiritual father who had recently been taken away from him forcibly by Nero’s soldiers. Timothy probably thought that Paul had already been put to death by the Roman emperor, Nero. What joy and encouragement must have filled Timothy’s heart as he read about Paul’s affection for him, and about Paul’s appeals to him and promises to Him from the Lord Jesus Christ! Tears must have filled Timothy’s eyes as he read this letter, realizing the sufferings Paul was experiencing and the death he faced because of his committment to Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy in 67 or 68 A.D., just five years after his first letter to Timothy. Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome. The first was more like a house arrest. Paul lived in his own rented house and was given a great deal of freedom. After this first imprisonment at the end of Acts 28, Paul made some more missionary journeys. Then there developed a dramatic change in attitude toward Christianity on the part of the Roman government. Just a few years before the writing of this epistle, in July of 64 A.D., a great fire destroyed a large part of the city of Rome. There was evidence that the fire had been ordered by Nero himself, and those rumors spread. In a desperate effort to clear himself and get the focus of attention away from himself, Nero blamed the fire on the Christians. The result was that many of the enemies of Christianity took sides with Nero and started persecuting and killing Christians. This perseccution spread to all the Roman provinces. It was not known for sure where the apostle Paul was when he was again arrested, but it may have been at Troas because Paul’s cloak and his precious books and parchments were left there.
The aged apostle Paul was now in chains in the dungeon of a Roman prison, locked in his cell and chained to a Roman guard day and night. This epistle to Timothy must have been written only a few months before Paul’s death. Whether or not Timothy arrived at Paul’s side before his execution is not known.
Timothy had been Paul’s faithful missionary companion for over 15 years. He had travelled with Paul throughout most of his second and third missionary journeys. He also went with Paul to Jerusalem in Acts 20 and may have been with him on his voyage to Rome. Paul mentions Timothy’s name along with his own when he writes to Philemon and to the Philippian and Colossian churches. In I Corinthians 4:17 Paul calls Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord.” He also calls Timothy his “brother and God’s faithful servant in the gospel of Christ” in I Thessalonians 3:2. Because of Timothy’s genuine concern for the welfare of the churches, and because of the loyalty with which he served with Paul “as a son with his father”, in Philippians 2:20-22 Paul went so far as to say, “I have no one like him.” Among all of Paul’s associates, Timothy was unique.
After Paul’s first imprisonment, Paul left Timothy in Ephesis as the accepted leader of that church. But though he was in leadership, Timothy still had some things that weren’t in his favor. Timothy was still young. He was probably in his mid-thirties, but at that time a person of that age was still considered a youth in the Greek and Roman cultures. He was also a frail person with several physical ailments, and he was apparently a shy person.
III. PURPOSE AND CONTENT OF THE LETTER
Imagine for a moment the aged apostle Paul in a dungeon in Rome with no escape but death. His apostolic work is over. But now he must make sure that the work of Christ is carried on to future generations. As Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy, Paul must have been thinking, “Who is going to continue the battle for the truth of the Gospel after I’m dead?”
Paul’ purpose in writing is to remind Timothy again that the precious Gospel is now committed to him, and now it’s his turn to assume responsibility for it, to preach it, to teach it, to defend it, and to preserve it for future generations. In II Timothy 2:1,2 Paul says, “My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who may be able to teach others also.”
Paul’s main purpose in this letter is to focus on the character of the Christian, and he gives several images or portraits of the ideal Christian minister. He is to be like his Master, the “suffering servant” described by the prophet Isaiah: patient, gentle, hopeful, and praying for his enemies. He is to be like a soldier who is single-minded and ready to obey his commanding officer. Thirdly, he is to be like an athlete, running the race according to the rules of the contest, and fourthly, he is to be like a farmer, working hard and earning his reward. Paul also gives an image or portrait of himself. In II Timothy 4:7-8, in the face of death, Paul is unafraid, and gives his own eulogy. He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
It is significant that the last time Timothy’s name is mentioned in the New Testament is in Hebrews 13:23 where it is reported that Timothy was recently released from prison. He too is keeping the faith in Christ regardless of the consequences to himself.
IV. AN OUTLINE OF II TIMOTHY:
There are many outlines of the second letter of Paul to TImothy, but my favorite is taken from John Stott’s book entitled, “Guard the Gospel”. I like this outline because it is simple and easy to remember; and also because it views Paul’s letter as a series of challenges to Timothy. Here is his outline:
Chapter 1 – The Charge to Guard the Gospel
Chapter 2 – The Charge to Suffer for the Gospel
Chapter 3 The Charge to Continue in the Gospel
Chapter 4 – The Charge to Proclaim the Gospel
V. THE SIGNIFICANCE AND APPLICATION TO US:
This church, and every church of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, needs to heed the message in this second letter of Paul to Timothy because many churches and many Christians are relaxing their grip on the Gospel, and in danger of letting it slip from their hands. They are no longer determined to proclaim it; they are unprepared to suffer for it; and they are are unwilling to pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the next generation of Christians who will rise up after them.
In II TImothy we see that even though the aged apostle Paul faces death in prison, his passion for fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission by making disciples is as strong as ever. What does the Lord require of us? He requires faithfulness to Him and His work, not only on Sundays but throughout every day of every week for the rest of our lives. God wants us to finish the race He has entered us in, looking forward to the day when we shall see Christ face-to-face in heaven. Paul’s final charge to Timothy is “Guard what has been entrusted to you”, and his final words are “Grace be with you.”