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2 Timothy 2:8-15

This week’s epistle lesson continues a series of exhortations in 2 Timothy 2. These exhortations follow the final four verses of 2 Timothy 1that reveal disagreement among believers in Asia Minor regarding Paul and his ministry. Phygelus and Hermogenes as well as “all” in Asia had turned away from Paul (2 Timothy 1:15).

On the other hand, Onesiphorus had often helped Paul and had come to Rome searching out the apostle in prison and encouraging him. Further, Onesiphorus had provided great help in Ephesus. With Timothy now at Ephesus, the center of the conflict over Paul, the specific instructions of chapter 2 were especially important. Using illustrations from athletics, the military, and farming the apostle urges Timothy to stay strong in the faith and provide steady leadership for the church.

In those circumstances the first command in our lesson to Timothy is to remember Jesus Christ. Remembering is an important theme in Scripture. The great Jewish festivals like Passover were designed to help Israel remember what God had done in delivering them from Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land. Remembering God’s mighty acts of salvation enables the people of God to trust God for the future. For Timothy and any other pastor under pressure remembering Jesus and what God has done for us through Christ is foundational for finding one’s way.

The specific truths about Jesus that Paul commands Timothy to remember are his resurrection and his Davidic descent. The resurrection is the defining basis for Christian hope. Judaism had had its share of Messianic claimants before and after Jesus. All of their claims ended in the death of the leader. The resurrection of Jesus made his claims of his identity irrefutable. The cross should have spelled the end of Jesus and his ministry. Rather the resurrection validated the church’s understanding of the atoning power of his death. In 2 Corinthians 1:9 describes the overwhelming pressure he was feeling in Asia as teaching him to not rely on himself but on the God who raises the dead.

The significance of the call to remember that Jesus was a descendant of David is more difficult to understand. Paul appeals to Jesus’ Davidic descent in Romans 1:3, but otherwise that fact of Jesus plays a very minor role in Paul. The rare mentions of Davidic descent affirms the messiahship of Jesus, but that claim was becoming increasingly unimportant as the Christian mission focused more and more on Gentiles rather than on Jews. However, for Paul Jesus’ Davidic descent points to the fact that God was accomplishing his long standing purposes through Jesus. That truth should be encouraging to Timothy in the midst of conflict. Paul sees the resurrection and the Davidic descent of Jesus as a summary of the gospel he preached.

Paul’s suffering for the sake of the gospel is a common theme in his writings. Particular emphasis is given to it in the Pastorals Epistles, the Prison Epistles, and 2 Corinthians. Verse 9 of our text notes that the hardship Paul was experiencing at the writing of 2 Timothy as being chained as a criminal. The final sentence of verse 9 declares the stunning reversal. Though the apostle was chained, the gospel was not chained. No matter what persecution or hardship Christians may suffer, the truth of the gospel is not and can not be restrained. In fact, the three centuries following Paul’s ministry saw the church grow most rapidly when persecution was most severe. For persons committed to the advance of the gospel that truth means all suffering for the gospel is of only minor consequence.

Because of that confidence Paul was willing to endure everything that came his way for the sake of God’s chosen ones, the elect. The term, “the elect,” can be found in both Old and New Testaments (1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalm 89:3; Isaiah 65, 9, 15; Matthew 22:14; Luke 18:7; Romans 8:33; 16:13; and Colossians 3:12) to describe the people of God. The point is always that God has chosen people for salvation; there is no suggestion of election to damnation. Paul states here in verse 10 that his suffering has the purpose of people obtaining the salvation that in Christ Jesus. The Greek word usually translated “salvation” in verse 10 can mean deliverance or health also.

Paul introduces a four-line poetic statement in verse 11 with the words “The word is faithful.” This three word affirmation in Greek appears several times in 1 Timothy and also in Titus. It typically introduces a piece of early church tradition by affirming the reliability of the saying. To say “the saying is sure” or “the word is faithful” builds on biblical assurance of the faithfulness of God. If God is faithful, then his word is faithful, and so summaries of his word would be reliable.

The segment of early church tradition, thought by some to be a liturgical fragment, consists of four sentences all beginning with the word “if.” These sentences are found in verses 11b-13. The first (found in verse 11b) says, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” The most obvious contrast is between death and life, but the sentence also contrasts the past tense of identification with Christ and the future tense of eternal life. This way linking identification with Christ’s death and the hope of union with his resurrection is most fully articulated by Paul in Romans 6:2-14.

The second sentence in the sequence (verse 12a) states that if we endure we will also reign with him. The contrast between enduring and reigning is not nearly as pointed as the contrast between death and life in the previous sentence. But enduring implies enduring the kind of suffering for the gospel that Paul had mentioned above. The contrast of tenses is between the present tense for enduring and the future tense for reigning together with Christ.

The third sentence (verse 12b) is characterized by similarity of verb tense and verb meaning, “if we will deny him, he will also deny us.” Though most English translations treat the first verb as present tense, it is future, as is Christ’s denial of us. The contrast of this third sentence is the direction of the denial. Do we deny Christ? Then Christ denies us. This retributive judgment from Christ sounds harsh to some, but Jesus spoke almost the exact same words in Matthew 10:33. As early as Peter on the night before Jesus was crucified, the issue of denying knowing who Jesus is has been challenge for Christians under pressure.

The fourth sentence (verse 13) declares, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful.” Here the significant contrast is between our faithlessness and Jesus’ faithfulness. Based on the third sentence we might have expected the saying to read, “if we are unfaithful to Christ, he will not be faithful to us.” But faithlessness was never a part of the character of the God revealed first in the Old Testament and then in Christ. Faithlessness on the part of Christ would be a denial of his very nature and character.

A number of commentaries make a major break between verses 13 and 14, but the lectionary put them together. Verse 13 returns to the matter of remembering, but moves from the command in verse 8 for Timothy to remember to a command to remind his congregants of these truths. Further, he is to warn them to avoid wrangling over words. Paul had obviously had painful experiences in his churches with people arguing over words in hateful ways that sucked the energy out of the congregation and hamstrung their evangelistic initiatives.

Verse 15 returns Paul’s attention to Timothy personal responsibility as one on whom Paul had laid hands (2 Timothy 1:6). Paul’s charge is that Timothy present himself to God. The word “present” was often used in the context of sacrifice, so Paul envisions a sacrificial self-giving of Timothy to the work of ministry. The apostle has two words of encouragement and one statement of expectation. The encouraging words are that God approves Timothy as a minister of the gospel and that Timothy has no need to be ashamed. In that honor-shame society Timothy would suffer no loss of status or honor by giving his best in ministry. But the expectation is that Timothy would correctly explain the word of the gospel.

Whatever the challenges and obstacles in a congregation may be God’s approval means we need not be ashamed. But God’s expectation is that we give ourselves carefully and diligently to the correct teaching of his word.