Theme: The Preservation of the Gospel
This week’s lessons remind us that we do not only need God’s grace for our salvation; we also need God’s grace to provide strength to carry on in God’s service in the midst of difficulties.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1, 2
Today we want to finish up our introduction to 2 Timothy by looking at a third point.
Paul was concerned for the preservation of the gospel. This note runs throughout the letter like a leitmotif, and in the first letter too: “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care,” says Paul at the end of the first letter (1 Tim 6:20). In the second letter he tells him: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2Tim. 1:14); “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it” (2Tim. 3:14, 15); and “I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1, 2). The text I am focusing on says, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:1, 2). Paul had preserved the wholeness and purity of the gospel in his lifetime. He was about to be martyred. So he commits his charge to Timothy, who is instructed to guard the gospel too.
As I read the charge I am using as a text for this study, I find it extending over four generations:
God had entrusted the gospel to Paul.
Paul had gone on to entrust the gospel to Timothy.
Timothy was to then entrust the gospel to faithful men.
These faithful men would be able to entrust it to others.
That is the way the gospel must be passed on. It is the true apostolic succession. But Paul was afraid it would not happen in Asia, and his concern that it might not is the burden of his letter to young Timothy.
What was Paul afraid of? Let’s be very blunt about it. He was afraid that Timothy might quit, the combination of the enormous challenge he faced and his own weak nature proving too much for him. I do not think he ever feared that Timothy would repudiate the gospel itself, as the other leaders in Asia had. Timothy was too well-grounded for that. But he might give up. After all, no one had stood with Paul at his first trial (2 Tim. 4:16). Demas, his other co-worker and friend, had deserted him and gone to Thessalonica (2 Tim. 4:10). Perhaps Timothy would desert the gospel too. How would Paul provide for the Asian churches then? Who could he turn to if Timothy should drop out?
It is against this background that we must read our text. “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim 2:1, 2). It means: Don’t quit, Timothy. Keep on until others are prepared to hand the gospel on to their successors just as you have been faithful in handing it to them.
Don’t you ever feel like quitting? Quitting the work God has given you? It may be Christian work, but I would not restrict the temptation to that. You may want to opt out of your marriage, or some other relationship. You may want to quit a demanding or boring job. It could be anything. You are not going to profit from 2 Timothy unless you recognize that the temptation Timothy had to quit is also your temptation, since you are no different from him. This is the problem with so much of what is said about Timothy being a weak, timorous person. He may have been. But if he was, he was no different from ourselves at least at the point where we are pressured to abandon our stand for Jesus Christ. When we call him weak, we are thinking of ourselves as being strong. But are we? Are you? Are you strong enough not to abandon the gospel or anything else God has given you to do in this life? The letter mentions several pressure-points that were affecting Timothy that could cause him to quit. As we look at them, ask yourself if they are affecting you.
What does Dr. Boice call “the true apostolic succession”?
What was Paul’s fear concerning Timothy? Why did Paul have this fear?
Reflection: Have you ever been tempted to quit something that you nevertheless believed was God’s will for you at the time? What caused you to persevere in obedience?