You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. (2:1-6 NAS)
…Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…
But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness. (4:2-3, 5, 7-8 NAS)
Paul the Scrapper
These words are almost standard fare for the Apostle Paul: Words of admonishment, words of advice, explanations of clear doctrine.
Paul was a fighter. He fought his whole life. Before he became a believer in Jesus Christ, he fought the Christians, persecuting them and getting them thrown into prison. After his meeting with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, his life made a 180-degree turn about. That is, he was converted
That is what conversion is, after all—making a complete turnabout. His zeal, however, remained just as strong; except now he was fighting all who would oppose the gospel, instead of fighting the gospel itself.
“You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness,” he told Elymas the magician. “Will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time” (Acts 13:10-11).
These are not words of a timid man. This is how we are accustomed to seeing Paul. Never flinching: never backing down: never giving up.
“All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household,” he told the Philippians (4:22).
Paul wrote these words while a prisoner of Caesar. He was under house arrest and had a Roman guard with him at all times. It was these of Caesar’s household whom he had led to the Lord.
Even as he was a prisoner of the empire of Rome, we see Paul as victorious.
It was on the way to Rome that the ship that Paul was on endured gale force winds. Paul and the rest of the people onboard were finally shipwrecked. It was only the words of Paul that kept the crew safe. Without his advice, many, if not all, would have surely perished.
This is Paul—always in control, always on top of things.
When Paul writes, he writes to teach doctrine, to give advice, to encourage, and perhaps to reprove. We see the same type of writing in Second Timothy. As I have said in an earlier chapter of this book, when we study a book of the Bible, we are accustomed to outlining it and dissecting it much like a specimen in biology class.
This is not wrong. In fact, it is quite helpful. It is systematic study, and it is exegesis. By this method, we find and learn the true doctrines of the Bible and understand who God is in a more complete manner. Nevertheless, it is also helpful to remember the occasions on which the passage was written.
A Letter to a Friend
The book of Second Timothy is more than another book in a series of instructional essays. Of course it is true that what Paul wrote is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and is “profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and for training in righteousness.”
But in addition to this, it is helpful to remember that it was first and foremost a letter. It was a letter to a friend. It is true that the book was inspired by the Holy Spirit to also be used as Scripture, but as well as that, it was a letter that one man wrote to another.
I think it is important to remember this fact, because we sometimes get the idea that the men and women of the first century church, and indeed all the characters of the Bible, were somehow different than us. We find we have trouble identifying with them.
However, in the second letter to Timothy, we see the humanness of Paul like nowhere else, except perhaps in his second letter to the Corinthians. It is especially in these two letters that we see another side of Paul. In these letters, we see a Paul who is distressed about something that had happened in his life.
In the second of his letters to Timothy, despite his words of advice to his young friend, Paul was not on top of things. He was in prison, but he was not busy converting the Roman guards as he seems to have been doing when he wrote to the Philippians.
When Paul wrote this letter to his friend Timothy, he was lonely and languishing in a dungeon. The man Onesiforus, who visited Paul, and for whose visit Paul was very thankful, had to search Rome to even find out where Paul was imprisoned. In many ways, Paul felt abandoned. In many ways, he had been abandoned.
The New Testament book of Second Timothy was a letter. Letters have purposes, and letters often can give an impression of the emotional state of the writer. There is something about an actual physical letter that is especially given to this. It is more difficult to get the same sense in an email or a text message. But a pen put to a paper is more tactile. It puts you more in touch with the writer.
You also may have gotten letters like that from a friend or family member. As far as the actual words that were written, there may not be too much that one could place one’s finger on, but we could tell that the letter was written just because the writer needed someone to talk to. I think this is how it was for Paul in writing to Timothy.
Paul was nearing the end of his life on this earth (4:6-7). Second Timothy is his last writing; at least, it is the last that we now have in existence. Paul was assessing his own life. He was reminiscing about what had gone well and what had not. I think it was a time of great introspection for him.
He needed his friend to talk with. Luke was with him. Luke had been a faithful friend, walked many hundreds of miles with Paul, and rode the ships of the Mediterranean with him.
Nevertheless, Paul also wanted Timothy to come, before winter if he could. Paul said, “Oh, and bring my cloak. I left it in Troas with Carpus.”
Why was he eager for Timothy to come? It was not because he needed his cloak for the winter. Paul wanted to strengthen Timothy in the faith. Others of Paul’s helpers had not been so faithful. This was a great disappointment to Paul, and judging by the tone of his letter, it hurt him deeply.
A Letter to Affirm a Friendship
“You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes,” Paul wrote to Timothy (1:15). He then mentions Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had taken the true doctrine that Paul had taught them and twisted it and perverted it (2:17-18).
However, I think the person who hurt Paul the most deeply, and perhaps even what prompted him to write the letter, is found in this statement: “Make every effort to come to me soon, for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (4:9-10).
Demas, like Timothy, had been one of Paul’s helpers, one of his co-workers. Demas had been with Paul through many difficult circumstances. He had even earlier served time with Paul in prison.
But in the end, Demas became tired of the battle. He decided that the attractions of the world were more appealing than his work for the gospel. He abandoned Paul. Perhaps it was this, at least partially, that caused Paul to write to his young friend about “entrusting the gospel to faithful men,” and that “no soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life.”
However, despite Paul’s disappointment with Demas, he had maintained a greater confidence in Timothy. He says, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well” (2 Timothy 1:5, NAS). Timothy’s heritage went back to his family.
A Letter to a Family Member
We really do not know very much about Paul’s personal life, but it may be that Timothy was about as close to family that Paul had ever had. Paul had poured much of his life into Timothy. He calls Timothy “my beloved son.”
In his first letter to Timothy, he calls him “my true child in the faith.” Of course, Timothy was not Paul’s biological son, but Paul saw in Timothy the fruit of his spiritual life. He tells Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6, NAS).
I like this illustration of spiritual fruit. They show that Paul knew Timothy in his formative years, he cultivated and saw Timothy as he grew, and he knew Timothy as he matured. Paul trusted him as no other. Paul had many on whom he relied, many people whom he had discipled, but of Timothy he said to the church at Philippi, “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:19-20 italics mine).
Others had deserted Paul. This was a great discouragement to him. Nevertheless, despite that hurt, Paul could go back to Timothy. He knew Timothy, and he knew of Timothy’s faithfulness. Their history together was deep.
And now in prison, Paul needed to see Timothy. He needed the encouragement of his son.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Make every effort to come before winter.”
Encouraging One Another
The Proverbs tell us, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for times of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
The writer of Hebrews says, “Encourage one another every day, so that none of you will find your heart hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Let us consider how to inspire one another to have the courage to love, and to do good.
“Do not neglect meeting together. This is what some do. But you should encourage one another—and all the more as you see the final days drawing near” (Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25).
In my own life, I have been fortunate in having the great privilege to have many co-workers in the faith in several countries. Those who are involved with the work of the gospel know the level of discouragement that can come with it. True workers of the gospel do not work for a paycheck. If that were all, we could at least see some rewards in our work every two weeks.
If we were soldiers, we could see victories in battle.
If we were construction workers, we could see buildings going up.
In fact, we do not work for anything that is tangible. We work for nothing that we can put our hands on. We work for the lives of men and women and of boys and girls. We work that the name of Jesus and his teaching be known, and that people might put their faith in Jesus as their Savior.
There is no concrete measure to our progress in this work, although many try to quantify it by various means. Some look at things such as attendance numbers, or numbers of “conversion cards” filled out. But the truth is, no one really knows. Attendance numbers may be indicators that your work is having some effect, and cards filled out may seem promising, but these things mean absolutely nothing unless the person has actually decided to follow Jesus.
The truth is, the results of those who work for the gospel will never be known in this life. Those results will only be made known in eternity. That is our reward. That is our crown. But that is also why our work here is can become discouraging. We do not even know if our efforts are bearing any lasting results.
And that is why having the encouragement of brothers and sisters involved in the same work is so important.
I have been fortunate in my life to have some of these.
As examples of how we can encourage on another, here are some words from brothers in other parts of the world that have encouraged me in the past. I leave the text largely untouched, so it may read a little broken and peculiar; but remember also, English is the second or even third language of some of these people. Some of this I have also translated from Spanish. The following is a compilation from a few different sources:
Dear fellow co-worker,
Grace, peace, Love, Power, joy and glory from the father of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ be unto you. We are very much glad because we believe and trust you are well. We are so glad for the prayers you are offering for our church. They are availing much because many souls are being added to the church and to the heaven Kingdom. That is our purpose—that many come to know the saving grace and accept Jesus as their personal savior.
Never be afraid nor dismayed of the people who are trying to hinder you. You will never see them, and our Father who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light will fight for you.
Beloved the one who has called you and has watch over you will never sleep or close eyes and ears to your cry, will be there help you and is closer even now and will make you come out victoriously.
Be assured that God is with you now; He will be in you then; and He is for you forever, all year round; His words will not change concerning you despite the attacks and He will guide you to the success.
May God manifest himself to you always according to his will, and continue to use your efforts as rocks to build his kingdom.
Praise to God for your prayers really we are seeing great work taking place here. Our fellow co-laborer in the lord, continue doing it for to God it’s not in vain. God has laid reward and crowns for you in heaven keep up the same spirit. We thank God for the connection in the spirit and the relationship has instituted for us to be an encouragement to each other.
These have been some who have encouraged me in the past.
At another time in Paul’s ministry, before he wrote his last letter to Timothy, he said in a letter to the people of the church in Colossae, “I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God's mysterious plan, which is Christ himself” (Colossians 2:2 NLT).
And to the Thessalonians, final words to them and also to us: “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).