Facing Difficult Times
The second letter to Timothy was quite probably the last letter that the apostle Paul ever wrote and he knew as he wrote it that the end was near for him:
2Tim.4:6 "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come."
The baton that he had carried in the early years of the expansion of the Christian church would soon have to be passed on and carried by others. Timothy belonged to the next generation of Christian leaders and Paul knew that his ministry would be carried out in trying times. Paul wrote to encourage Timothy, who by temperament was naturally timid, to be strong.
The church once founded would not be left in peace but would be a battleground. Evil and wicked men would act as impostors. They would pretend to be what they weren’t. They would by both their teaching and their conduct oppose the truth all the while making a show of outward godliness. In reality their influence would be negative and disruptive. Ultimately their efforts would come to nothing but along the way they would do a great deal of harm.
This was the context in which Timothy would be called upon to minister and he must be careful that he is not taken in by these enemies of the truth and himself led astray. Paul wrote to Timothy confidently expecting that he would and he listed out some of his reasons.
Timothy had got off to a good start in life
Timothy was no stranger to the truth. He had been brought up in a home where from his earliest days he had been taught the Scriptures. His father may well have been an uncircumcised Gentile but his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, were both believing women who loved the Word of God. Together they had read it to him, they had talked to him about it and they had taught him what it was all about.
The Scriptures they taught him were the OT Scriptures which said so much about who God is and what he requires of us. Those Scriptures contain his laws and commandments along with warnings of judgment if those commandments were broken for God revealed himself to be a holy God who would judge sin, all sin. Those Scriptures also contained a series of promises relating to God’s Messiah who would be sent to rectify the problems caused by sin. Lois and Eunice came to understand that these promises were fulfilled in Jesus and they pointed it all out to the young boy Timothy. He knew what the Scriptures had to say.
It is a great privilege to be brought up in such a home. Truth learnt at such a young age is easily stored up in the mind and thus readily available to the Holy Spirit to use when the time comes.
Timothy had progressed well
Knowing the truth is a great start but it is not of itself sufficient. The time must come in a person’s life when truth about God becomes more than something one knows, it must become something that one trusts. And that change had come about in Timothy’s life. Those truths that Eunice and Lois had taught him and which he had accepted suddenly came to life as he heard the apostle Paul preach. The Spirit acted and Timothy became a new man. Paul could write to him that he no longer simply knew the truth but he had come to firmly believe it.
When he heard Paul explain the gospel as he preached it with power in Lystra the truths that he had previously accepted suddenly had meaning and relevance for him. It wasn’t that the truths changed or that he heard something different it was he who was changed and he began to follow Paul. Not that he became a disciple of Paul but a follower of the gospel that Paul preached, a follower of the Saviour that Paul preached.
Paul knew that such a response to his preaching indicated genuine faith – Timothy was not one of those pretend Christians content with the appearance of godliness, he was the real deal. This assessment was further confirmed when Timothy continued to take an interest in the apostle when things went pear-
All this was positive in Timothy. He had progressed well from knowing the truth to sincerely trusting it and bearing fruit commensurate with such faith.
It was good to have known the truth – but that wasn’t sufficient. It was good to have moved beyond knowledge to trust – but still that was not sufficient. Timothy must continue in the faith.
Those enemies were going to come and trouble the church and the only way Timothy would stand was if he continued in the faith. He would only be able to resist error if he continued to grow in his knowledge of the truth. He would only be able to see through the machinations of wicked and evil men if he remained wholeheartedly committed to the gospel he had heard, if he continued to keep his faith in the Saviour he had believed in when he had believed that gospel.
He would be challenged to back away from the truth he had heard and to withdraw from the Saviour when he saw the difficulties that were involved along the way. These difficulties would be exacerbated by those who whispered that persecution was evidence of being out of God’s way, of following a lie. He would need to remember what Paul was telling him now:
v.12 "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,"
And that at the same time:
v.13 "evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."
What can Timothy do?
Paul urges Timothy to do two things and both are directly related to the Scriptures.
First and most importantly he is to hold on to the truth that he has learnt in the past and to which he has committed himself.
v.14 "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed,"
He is to realise more and more the value, worth and importance of these God-
v.15 "the sacred writings... are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
These Scriptures have great profit as they contain the teaching that Timothy and the whole church needs to hear and understand.
These Scriptures will cast light upon all the important issues that confront the church. They will enable error to be discerned and corrected. They will indicate the action to be taken when sin rears its ugly head. They will provide the necessary training so that we may be made fit for service.
As Timothy holds fast to the truths of these Scriptures he will become more and more a workman who can rightly handle this word of truth. When he stores God’s word away in his heart he will be good things to bring forth out of the good treasure of his heart to help others (Mt.12:35).
This word is precious beyond measure leading us to salvation and more personally to the Saviour.
If Paul could urge Timothy to treasure the Scriptures like this don’t you think he would want to urge us to do the same?
The second thing that Paul urges Timothy to do is still related to the Word of God. Paul urges Timothy to be mindful of those who had instructed him in the truth of the Word. Referring to what Timothy had learnt and come to firmly believe, Paul added:
v.14 "knowing from whom you learned it"
What Paul wants Timothy to do is to take notice of how the Word had transformed their lives. Lives submitted in obedience to the word of God are lives that evidence something of God’s power in godly living.
Here Paul has both Eunice and Lois in mind but he also doesn’t hesitate to call upon Timothy to learn from his own life. Paul has a long list of things which he believes Timothy would do well to learn from as a Christian role model. Timothy he believes should not just take note of these things he should imitate them too. There are nine of them and they are found in vv.10+11.
The qualities listed include both active and passive elements. The first seven can be classified as active while the final two are passive in nature. Let me highlight some of them them briefly.
Paul had preached a clear message. He hadn’t tried to embellish or to alter what he had received. He had received his message not from any man but from the Lord himself and he had made it his firm policy to pass on that message and not pander to the whims and fancies of men:
And yet at the same time as holding with a firm intransigence to the message as he received it the apostle did everything he could to make the message understandable and to remove any unnecessary obstacles that might get in the way of others hearing and understanding what the gospel was all about:
Nor was Paul content to discharge his ministry in some cold mechanical way – he cared and he cared passionately for the churches with which he was involved:
Gal.4:19 "my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!"
And there is plenty more detail recorded in Scripture of just how the gospel of the word had shaped the life of the apostle as Timothy himself knew so well having seen him at work in Lystra (Acts chs. 14+16) and on joint missions together.
In our own day when we have battles of our own to fight in a society that is increasingly marginalising the things that we consider the most important and essential matters for the whole of humanity let us hold fast to the truth we have learnt. Let us continue to treasure it indeed to treasure it more and more. Let us remind ourselves of those Christians who have impressed us by their faithful living.
Lord, keep us from losing our first love and in a day of such confusion and misunderstanding let us hold fast to the truth that we might have a message of real hope to share.