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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

2 Timothy 2



Other Authors
Verses 1-26

THE FIRST VERSE of our chapter brings before us a third thing that is needful if the truth of God is to be maintained. A good deposit had been entrusted to Timothy. It had been conveyed to him by Paul in an outline of sound words, and was to be kept by the indwelling Holy Spirit, as 2 Timothy 1:13, 2 Timothy 1:14 have told us. Now to have the truth enshrined in an outline of sound words is good, and yet no such outline can in itself keep the truth alive; for this the Holy Ghost is needed. Apart from Him the sound words do but embalm the truth, as may be seen in some of the orthodox confessions where creed has become altogether divorced from practice. By the indwelling Spirit however the truth may be kept in its living power.

Even so, a third thing is necessary for the truth is not only to be kept but to be propagated: indeed it cannot be effectually kept if it be not propagated—and for this we must be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” We must be kept in immediate and personal touch with Him that we may be partakers of His grace. The three then are these,

1. The form or outline of truth, which we have in the Holy Scriptures.

2. The indwelling Holy Spirit as life and power.

3. The grace of the risen Christ, as the fruit of communion with Him, strengthening the believer.

Not one of the three can be dispensed with. No two are sufficient without the third.

Thus strengthened Timothy was to diligently teach others, and especially to commit the truth to faithful men who would hand it on to others in their turn. We might almost be tempted to add “faithful men” as a fourth thing to the three already given, but of course a faithful man is one that is strong in the grace of Christ, so he really comes under point number three. We do well to remember all the same that the human element cannot be eliminated from the matter. When faithful men are wanting the grace of Christ remains unappropriated, the indwelling Spirit is grieved, and the light and safeguard of Scripture neglected.

Now anyone who is really identified in this way with the truth—be it an inspired apostle, as Paul, or an apostolic man, like Timothy, or faithful men, or even very ordinary believers, like ourselves—cannot expect to have an easy time of it in this world. Oppositions and tests of all kinds must be expected, and the rest of our chapter is occupied with instructions in view of such things, and we shall find emphasized the characteristics, which found in the believer will enable him to meet them.

First of all comes conflict. This is quite inevitable for we are in the enemy’s land and the Christian is a soldier. Two qualities are called for in this connection: we must be prepared for “hardness,” that is, we must not complain if we get plenty of hard knocks and suffer many inconveniences in serving the Lord; further we must hold ourselves absolutely at the disposal of the One whom we serve and hence be disentangled from the world. We handle the affairs of this life of course, perhaps we do so very largely, yet we must refuse to be entangled in them.

The Christian also wears the athlete character, he is like those who “strive for masteries.” In this connection obedience is stressed. Except he strive lawfully, except he run according to the rules of the contest, he is not crowned even though he comes in first. Do we sufficiently bear this in mind when we serve the Lord? Except we serve according to His instructions and in obedience to His word we cannot expect a full reward.

Further, he is like the husbandman, the farmer. This, man’s earliest occupation, is one that entails the maximum amount of real hard physical work. It means downright labour. So it is for the servant of the Lord. He must be prepared for real hard work, yet when the autumn fruits are garnered he has rightly enough the very first claim upon them. We make a great mistake if we favoured British folk in this luxurious twentieth century imagine it is our special privilege to be exceptions to this rule and to be carried to heaven on downy beds of ease.

There is more in these simple illustrations than is apparent at first sight; hence we are bidden in verse 2 Timothy 2:7 to give them a careful consideration, and if we do we may expect to receive understanding from the Lord.

In verse 2 Timothy 2:8 the Apostle reminded Timothy of that which was the very key-note of the gospel which he preached. The verse should read “Remember Jesus Christ of the seed of David raised from the dead.” We are to remember Him as the risen One, rather than merely to remember the fact that He is risen, important as that is. Being of the seed of David He has the legal title to God’s throne on the earth, and He will in due time bring in all the blessing promised in connection with it, but as risen from the dead far wider regions of blessing are opened up to us. If we keep Him in view as the risen One we shall find it a preservative against innumerable perversions of the truth of the gospel.

Now it was just because Paul himself so firmly maintained the truth of the gospel that he suffered so much trouble culminating in imprisonment. Still even in his captivity he found consolation in three directions. First, the adversaries might bind him, the messenger of the word of God, but the word of God itself they could not bind for that was in the hand of the Holy Spirit who could raise up messengers to carry it as and where He would.

Second, his sufferings were not going to be in vain. They were for the sake of “the elect,” i.e., of those who should receive the gospel, that salvation in Christ with eternal glory might be theirs. Paul suffered that the truth of the gospel might be established and propagated. The Lord Jesus suffered in atonement that there might be a gospel to preach. We must never allow any confusion in our thoughts between the sufferings of Christ and those of any of His servants, even the greatest of them.

Third, there was the sure working of the government of God, as expressed in verses 2 Timothy 2:11-13. Those who are identified with the death of Christ in this world shall enjoy life together with Him. Those who suffer in His interests shall be identified with Him when He reigns in glory. Those who deny Him will be denied by Him. God’s government acts in both directions: there shall be approbation and reward for the faithful believer, such as Paul was, and how great must have been this encouragement for him. Equally there shall be disapprobation and retribution for the unfaithful, and this may be a very serious matter for some of us. There is however just one qualification introduced into the working out of the government of God, and that is that if we “are unfaithful” (that is a better rendering than “believe not”) He remains faithful. Hence no act of His government can ever militate against or override His own purpose and grace. His government is necessary for our good and His glory, but His grace is founded upon what He is in Himself and, “He cannot deny Himself.” A faint illustration of this is seen in the actions of any right-minded earthly father who disciplines his child but never allows it to obscure the fundamental relationship that exists between them.

In verse 2 Timothy 2:14 Timothy is exhorted to put believers in remembrance of these solemn considerations that thereby they may be delivered from wasting their time over unprofitable matters that only breed contentions, and in this connection Paul appeals to him under the figure of a workman. He was to make it his object to be approved of God, “rightly dividing,” or “cutting in a straight line” the word of truth. It takes a skilled carpenter to cut a really straight line, and spiritual skilfulness is needed in dividing up the Word of God so as to set it forth in detail.

When the Scriptures are rightly handled what light and edification is the result! When, on the other hand, they are cut crookedly what confusion is introduced to the subverting of the hearers! Who can estimate the loss that has been suffered by believers in sitting under preaching which has hopelessly mixed up things Jewish and things Christian, confused law with grace, and failed to discern any difference between the work of Christ wrought for us and the work of the Spirit wrought in us? These are alas! but a few mild instances of the havoc that may be made in handling the Word of God.

To Timothy the Apostle proceeded to cite a glaring case which had arisen in these early days. Hymenaeus and Philetus had divided the word of truth so crookedly that they were found propagating the notion that, “the resurrection is past already.” In so teaching they tampered with the very foundations of the faith of the gospel and they overthrew the individual faith of any who came under their power. They could not of course overthrow the faith of Christianity for that was a divine foundation, and whatever God founds always stands firm as a rock. Nor could they overthrow anything which God had founded in the hearts of His people. That always remains come what may, and “the Lord knoweth them that are His” even if they became misled under false teaching and hence indistinguishable to others.

The twofold seal of verse 2 Timothy 2:19 is almost certainly an allusion to Numbers 16:5, Numbers 16:26, and we shall do well to read and consider that incident at this point as an illustration of the matter before us. The two principles set before us are quite clear and distinct: first, God is sovereign in His mercy and actings, hence He always knows and finally extricates those that are His: second, man is nevertheless responsible, hence every one who takes upon his lips the acknowledgement of the Lord is under the solemn obligation to depart from iniquity. The Christian must never be found in complicity with evil of any kind, from that which is least to that which is greatest.

The case brought before us in these verses was one of great seriousness for it was error as to fundamental truth and also error of an infectious kind, for, says the Apostle, “their word will eat [or, spread] as doth a canker.” Instructions are therefore given us as to the course to be pursued by the saint who desires to be faithful to the Lord and His Word. These instructions evidently contemplate the error having spread like a canker to the point when the church is powerless to deal with it as the bad case of moral evil was dealt with at Corinth. (See, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:4-8). The evidence of other Scriptures, notably of 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:19, would show that these early onslaughts of error were repulsed by the church, so that for the moment there may have been no necessity for Timothy to act on the instructions; if so it only emphasizes the goodness of God in seizing the occasion presented by the dangerous situation that arose over this matter to give the instructions so badly needed by us today.

In this connection another figure is used, that of a vessel. Verse 2 Timothy 2:20 is an illustration whereby the apostle makes clear and enforces his instructions. In a large establishment there are many vessels of different qualities, and put to different uses. Only those however that are set apart from dishonourable use are fit for the Master’s use. Verse 2 Timothy 2:21 applies this illustration to the case in point. A man must “purge himself from these,” i.e., from men such as Hymenaeus and Philetus, and from the false doctrines they teach, if he would be “a vessel unto honour” and fit for the use of the Master.

Let us at this point recapitulate for a moment. Verses 2 Timothy 2:17-18 of the second chapter have given us in few words the case of grave doctrinal error which was in question. Verse 2 Timothy 2:19 states in general terms the responsibility that rests abidingly upon all those who name the Name of the Lord. Verse 2 Timothy 2:20 enforces this responsibility by an illustration. Verse 2 Timothy 2:21 applies the general principle of verse 2 Timothy 2:19 to the case in point in a very definite and particular way.

The word in the original which is translated “purge” is a very strong one It means not only to purge or cleanse but to cleanse out. The same word is used in 1 Corinthians 5:7, where it is rightly translated, “purge out.” The evil was purged out by putting the wicked person away from amongst themselves, according to verse 2 Timothy 2:13 of that chapter. Here the individual believer— “a man”—is to purge himself out from amongst the wicked persons and their teaching; thus he will depart from iniquity and be prepared for all that is good.

These instructions are very important, for experience, no less than Scripture, teaches us how impossible it is to maintain personal holiness and spiritual fitness in association with evil. Righteous Lot may form links with Sodom, God-fearing Jehoshaphat may strike up an alliance with Baal-worshipping Ahab, but both inevitably become lowered and defiled in the process. So it will be for us today. So let us be warned.

We are not however to expect complete isolation because we cut our links with evil for we are to find happy association with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart, or, “a purged heart,” for it is the same word used again only without the prefix signifying “out.” In so doing we are to “flee youthful lusts,” that is, be very careful as to purity and holiness of a personal sort, for without that all this care as to purity in one’s associations would degenerate into mere hypocrisy. We are also to make the pursuit of “righteousness, faith, love, peace” our great concern. This will preserve us from becoming mere separatists in the spirit of, “stand by, for I am holier than thou!” We shall rather be actively and happily occupied with what is good and of eternal worth.

The four things we are to pursue are intimately connected. Righteousness is that which is right before God, and if we pursue it we shall certainly be marked by obedience to His truth and will. To pursue faith means following after those great spiritual realities made known to us in the

Scriptures, for faith serves as the telescope of the soul and brings them into view. To pursue love is to follow that which is the very expression of the divine nature. Peace naturally follows the other three. Any peace apart from them would be no true peace at all.

Verse 2 Timothy 2:23 indicates that, when Timothy or others have carried out the apostolic instructions we have been considering, they still have need to avoid pitfalls which the adversary will place in their way. He will still introduce, if he can, “foolish and unlearned questions” in order to create strife. The literal meaning of the word is not quite “unlearned” but “undisciplined,” it indicates, “a mind not subject to God, a man following his own mind and will.” There is nothing we ought to fear more than the working of our own minds and wills in the things of God.

The servant of the Lord must avoid strife at all costs. He cannot avoid conflict if he remains true to his Master, but he must not strive, i.e., he must avoid the contentious spirit, he must never forget that though he stands for the Lord he is only a servant, and hence he must be marked by the meekness that befits that position. In reading the earlier part of the chapter we noticed that various figures are used to show the different characters that the believer wears. He is a soldier, an athlete, a husbandman, a workman, a vessel, and now we are reminded that he is a servant, and not only so but a servant of the Lord, and hence he must be careful not to belie the character of the Lord whom he serves.

We might have supposed that anyone obeying the instructions of verses 2 Timothy 2:19-22 would be entirely removed from everybody who would be likely to oppose. Verses 2 Timothy 2:24-26 show that this is not so. The Lord’s servant will still come into contact with those who oppose and he must know how to meet them. He must be apt to teach and give himself to instructing his opponents rather than arguing with them. He must be armed with the love that will enable him to meet them in gentleness, patience and meekness; with the faith that will keep the truth clearly and steadily before his own mind and theirs; with the hope that counts on God to grant to them the mercy of repentance and recovery from the snare of Satan.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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