Thursday, April 12, 2007

2 Timothy 2:1-13

At the end of chapter 1 we learn that sadly, many "in Asia turned away from" Paul, and by implication, from the gospel. Paul pleads with Timothy here not to do so, but like Onesiphorus, be "not ashamed of my chains". But can Timothy do that on his own? Paul asks Timothy, in contrast to dependence on his own strength, to instead "be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (v.1). Here I defer to Jerry Bridges:
This means that all our responses to God’s dealings with us and all our practice of the spiritual disciplines must be based on the knowledge that God is dealing with us in grace. And it means that all our effort to teach godly living and spiritual maturity to others must be grounded in grace. If we fail to teach that discipline is by grace, people will assume, as I did, that it is by performance.
That is why we must not put the gospel on the shelf once a person becomes a new believer. He or she will have just as difficult a time believing that God relates to us every day on the basis of grace as a person has believing that God saves by grace instead of works.

- The Discipline of Grace, p.79
He then charges Tim to teach to other faithful men the truth of the good news. (Again, I think this strengthens the case for the "deposit" being the gospel in 1:12-14). It’s kind of like a chain reaction here – Paul entrusts Timothy, whom he obviously regards as a "faithful" person, with the charge to teach the gospel, who then in turns entrusts it to other trustworthy people, and so on. It’s interesting here to note that Paul says "faithful", keeping in mind that he was writing when there were many false teachers about – a point he addresses later on in the letter. I’m sure there would also be connotations of “faithful” in the sense that there is no dichotomy in the words and lives of those entrusted with the gospel (cf. my last 2 Tim post on shame). Also, there seems to be an emphasis on the gospel as unchanging.

Paul then uses 3 metaphors to encourage Timothy to persevere and "share in suffering"(v.3). The first is that of the soldier, and I think it seems to mainly talk about single-mindedness. So a soldier will have no time to get "entangled in civilian pursuits", instead, he is resolute in his cause. This of course doesn’t mean that a Christian is meant to withdraw from so-called ‘secular’ pursuits. Rather, it’s a matter of priorities. So when the siren goes off, I don’t think any soldier would still be mulling over the game of chess he’s been having with a comrade, he’s getting ready to man the battle stations. Secondly, there’s the metaphor of an athlete. I think that endurance and discipline is being talked about here. So an athlete can’t expect to be gorging on fast food and be fit, he’s got to "compete according to the rules", including the rules of a healthy diet which would aid him in his quest for that medal. Thirdly, there’s the metaphor of the farmer, which seems to imply the need for hard work, and also the reward at the end. All these illustrations have the common theme of self-denial.

These are truths that are not natural to us, to say the least! So Paul writes: "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." (v.7) There is both a need for conscious reflection and a humble recognition that it is God who reveals his word to us.

Specifically, there is a need to keep remembering Jesus (v.8)! I thought Stott’s remarks were very perceptive here, and I’ll try to paraphrase him. Jesus needs to be at the forefront because we humans are so fickle that we often forget him, the heart of our faith! We are reminded of both Jesus’ humanity and divinity here, for he was "descended from David", but also "risen from the dead". His resurrection also shows his victory over sin, and at the same time the allusion to David reminds us of his kingly authority; the phrases used here allude to Jesus as both Saviour and King. Finally, they also show that, from Jesus’ own experience, “the principle that death is the gateway to life and suffering the path to glory.” In light of the path of suffering every disciple of Jesus must take, there is encouragement to be found in looking to Jesus himself! (Amazing how much Stott unpacked from that one verse!)

Although Paul suffers, he is aware of the fact that God’s words will not suffer; even in prison the gospel is still effective. (cf. Phil. 1:12-14). He suffers not for the sake of suffering, but for the sake of others (v.10). I think the "elect" here refers to those who have not believed, but in God’s good grace certainly will. He then proceeds to cite what perhaps might have been a creed or catechism of sorts during his time (v.11-13)
The first line tells us about every Christian’s present reality, that in Jesus, our old self has died and we are a new creation. The second line tells us about our future reality, that in enduring, it will be worth it as co-heirs with Christ.

2 Tim 2:12-13 is a little harder. The third line functions as a warning, an echo of Mark 8.38 (which I though also had echoes in chapter 1). I think traditionally, we often take v.13 to be an encouragement; even when we’ve blown it, Jesus will remain faithful, not being as fickle-minded as we are. It does not mean we can do anything we like, as the previous verses make clear, but it is an antidote to despair over our inadequacies. However, some have taken the line that this saying is actually a pair of contrasts. So the first half is positive and the second negative. In other words, "he also will deny us" and "he remains faithful" are taken as parallels, and when it says "he remains faithful" here, it means God will be faithful to his own character and thus will most definitely carry out what he says, that is, "deny us".

As you can imagine, this is not a light matter, and it has serious pastoral consequences. Stott takes the latter position here, although another wiser head than mine thinks that the former position is the right one. At the moment, partly because of some of my presuppositions (which hopefully is always being modified by Scripture itself!), I also take the former position and go against the mighty John Stott! :-p

As always, feedback is welcome. Is there an observation you want to add? An insight? Anything on 2:11-13? An application?

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