The Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to his spiritual son Timothy from a Roman prison and “believed that his death was near…Some suggest that Paul was writing a more personal letter to Timothy because of the fact that he was expecting to die soon” (Introduction to the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy). Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering so that he could present himself to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul said:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:1-7)
Paul used three analogies to get his message across to Timothy. First, Paul told Timothy that he must share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers are mentioned throughout the New Testament account of Jesus’ ministry because of the Roman occupation of Israel at that time. The Greek word that Paul used, stratiotes (strat-ee-oˊ-tace) refers to “a (common) warrior” (G4757). Paul’s idea of a good soldier of Christ Jesus was probably someone that was always engaged in spiritual battles. Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).
Paul told Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). The New King James Version of the Bible states it this way. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” The Apostle Peter also talked about becoming entangled in the affairs of this life in the context of false prophets and teachers. Peter said:
These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:17-22)
Paul’s use of the phrase “the affairs of this life” (2 Peter 2:4) was probably meant to be interpreted in the context of normal everyday life. The Greek word that is translated life in this instance, bios (beeˊ-os) refers to “the present state of existence” and by implication “the means of livelihood” (G979). The struggle between doing God’s will and our own will often centers on the question of how we earn our living. The struggle between the two is clearly portrayed in the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. After the Israelites “set out for the first time at the command of the LORD by Moses” (Numbers 10:13), it says in Numbers 11:1, “the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes.” Moses went on to say:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)
The strength that was dried up may have been the people’s physical appetite, but there was likely more to what was going on than just a lack of physical nourishment. The Hebrew word that is translated strength, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) in an abstract sense refers to vitality and often represents “the inner being with its thoughts and emotions” and by extension, “the whole person” (H5315). At this point in time, it seems that some of the Israelites were beginning to miss their old way of life. Moses referred to the group of people that had gathered together to complain to each other as “the rabble” (Numbers 11:4). It’s not stated exactly who these people were, but it seems likely that they were dissenters who were opposed to the military campaign that was about to take place as the Israelites approached the Promised Land (Numbers 13:1-2, 17-19).
The second analogy that Paul used to encourage Timothy’s endurance was an athlete that is engaged in a competition. Paul said, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). The point that Paul was making was that it is possible for Christians to be disqualified from the spiritual rewards that they expect to receive from God. An example of this principle was the 40 year delay that kept everyone that grumbled against the LORD from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:26-30), as well as Moses’ exclusion because he broke faith with the LORD (Deuteronomy 32:48-51). Paul told Timothy at the conclusion of his letter, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The crown of righteousness may be the crown that Paul was referring to when he said that an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5). If so, competing according to the rules might have something to do with preaching the gospel accurately, meaning that there isn’t anything added or taken away from the message that Jesus proclaimed to his followers.
Paul’s final analogy, the hard working farmer, indicated that the principle of sowing and reaping came into play with regard to suffering and endurance. Paul said, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). Metaphorically, fruit as it relates to work or deeds is “the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the ‘fruit’ being evidence of the character of the power producing it” (G2590). Paul’s suggestion that the hard-working farmer should receive the first share of the crops meant that the person preaching the gospel would receive some of the benefits of his own message. In other words, the power of the Holy Spirit would spill over into his own life as the preacher of the gospel went about sowing the seeds of God’s word. Paul concluded with the statement, “Think over what I say; for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Paul seemed to be aware of the fact that his words of encouragement to Timothy weren’t really all that encouraging, at least not from a human perspective. The Greek words that Paul used, noieo (noy-ehˊ-o) which is translated think over and sunesis (soonˊ-es-is) which is translated understand have to do with the faculties of the mind and may be connected with Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Paul told the Ephesians that they must “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24). Basically, what Paul was referring to was the process of sanctification which results in the divine character of God being manifested in the life of the believer (G38).
After the Israelites complained to the LORD about their misfortunes (Numbers 11:1), they were commanded to sanctify or consecrate themselves (Numbers 11:18). Numbers 11:18-20 states:
“And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’”
The Hebrew word that is translated rejected, maʾaç (maw-asˊ) speaks of “despising one’s spiritual condition” and describes the Israelites’ actions “in refusing to heed God or accept his authority” (H3988). The Israelites were instructed to consecrate themselves, meaning that they had to go through a process of rededicating themselves to the LORD in order to reinstate his blessing upon them.
Moses’ role of keeping the Israelites in check was a difficult one because of the constant friction between God and his chosen people. Moses asked the LORD:
“Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:11-14)
A short while later, Moses’ authority was challenged by his own brother and sister. Numbers 12:1-9 states:
Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.
Moses’ personal relationship with the LORD made it possible for him to understand things that no other human being could. God said that he spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles” (Numbers 12:8).
Like Moses, Paul suffered because of the message that the Lord entrusted to him. Paul said that he was suffering, “bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9-10). The Greek word that is translated endure, hupomeno (hoop-om-enˊ-o) is derived from the words hupo (hoop-oˊ) which refers to an inferior position or condition (G5259) and meno (menˊ-o) which speaks of “a person remaining in a state or condition” (G3306). The literal translation of hupomeno is “to stay under,” meaning to remain in an inferior position (5278). Paul said that he was enduring prison for the sake of the elect, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul believed that he was in prison because it was a part of his ministry, something that he needed to do to in order to finish his race (2 Timothy 4:7).
Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering because of the assurance that he had of future rewards. Paul said:
The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
The Greek word that Paul used that is translated reign, sumbasileuo (soom-bas-il-yooˊ-o) refers to a co-regent (G4821). Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Jesus talked about his future glory in his high priestly prayer to his Father. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).
One of the conditions that Paul identified for being approved by God was being able to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul contrasted being able to rightly handle the word of truth with irreverent babble that leads people into more and more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16). Another way of describing irreverent babble might be a fruitless or meaningless discussion. Some people talk about God in a way that destroys other people’s faith rather than building it up. Paul used the example of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had said that the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:18), in order to illustrate how a central fact could undermine the entire gospel. Paul encouraged Timothy to cleanse himself from what is dishonorable, so that he would be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).
Paul’s final recommendation for endurance had to do with the spiritual battles associated with winning souls for Christ. Paul said:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Paul’s description of salvation as coming to our senses and escaping from the snare of the devil emphasized the importance of spiritual warfare and its role in helping or hindering a person’s belief in God. The Greek word that is translated captured, zogreo (dzogue-rehˊ-o) means “to take alive (make a prisoner of war)” (G2221). The concept of a prisoner of war suggests that the devil is able to render believers useless to God by tricking them into believing things that are untrue.
Paul admonished Timothy “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14) and then went on to explain that it is the condition of our hearts when we share the gospel that makes all the difference in the success or failure of our attempt. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The idea that Paul was conveying of presenting ourselves to God was about the genuineness of our faith or you might say the accuracy of our view of ourselves compared to God’s view of us. We might think we are right with God, but when we stand in God’s presence every unconfessed sin will be exposed. Paul wrote in his message to the Hebrews:
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:35-39)
The shrinking back that Paul mentioned may have had something to do with lowering a sail and so slackening the course of the ship. Paul was likely referring to being remiss in holding to the truth of the gospel (G5288). In other words, leaving out some of the details of the gospel in order to make it more palatable to unbelievers is a dangerous compromise that can diminish your faith and result in spiritual ruin.