When you open to the letter of 2 Timothy in the Bible, you have stumbled into a dramatic scene. It might at first sound like a letter from a father to a son (2 Timothy 1:2), and in a way, it is that. However, the contents of this letter are far more moving when you understand the occasion for it.
In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul affirmed, charged, warned, and encouraged the young pastor as though preparing him for battle. In this letter, the older saint pens some final words to the young man who has become like a son to him. Timothy reads, likely with tears, that Paul’s own battle is almost over (2 Timothy 4:7), as he writes from a Roman prison, awaiting execution.
You’re reading the last letter of a mentor to his apprentice. It’s urgent with the hope of one more reunion with Timothy before Paul dies for his faith in Jesus (2 Timothy 2:9, 21).
What does Paul say, and why did God’s Spirit inspire him to include these words in our Bibles?
The first part of the letter says, “Don’t be afraid, and don’t be ashamed” (2 Timothy 1). Although Paul writes this from prison, about to die for his faith, Paul doesn’t want Timothy to buckle under fear or grief. He reminds Timothy that Jesus has “abolished death” (2 Timothy 1:10), is completely trustworthy (2 Timothy 1:12), and still has work for him to do (1 Timothy 1:7-8).
Suffering and persecution can’t extinguish the truth of God’s Word.
Just as Paul passes on the torch of his ministry to Timothy, so Timothy will need to entrust the leadership of God’s church only to “faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2) who will also desire to pass the torch of truth to the next generation. Paul warns Timothy to avoid people who distract from the truth by foolish conversations or distort the truth.
Paul then encourages Timothy to maintain his focus, like a good soldier on active duty. He reminds him to not get distracted, to run forward in faith, and to be ready and fit for service to Christ (2 Timothy 2). But he tempers this encouragement with setting Timothy’s expectations. Times will be difficult, and persecution is inevitable. Yet, suffering and persecution can’t extinguish the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3).
Finally, Paul strengthens Timothy with direct commands to keep preaching and doing his job as a pastor (2 Timothy 4). He ends his letter with an urgent plea for Timothy to come visit soon, and a touching plea to bring his coat before it’s winter (2 Timothy 4:13, 21).
As we’re left wondering what happened, Paul’s loving exhortation to Timothy weighs on us as well. Will we venture on in loving service to Christ, fearless, willing to face hardship, striving to be faithful to the Word of God?
I encourage you to read Timothy and hear it as an encouragement from the Holy Spirit.
Don’t let the tears and trials that accompany your service melt your heart into fear and blind you from the fight. Wipe them and in the strength of God’s Spirit, keep on in whatever service Jesus has called you to, knowing his Word will never fail and death is not the end for those who trust in Jesus.