The final recorded words of a person generally are perceived to be of keen interest. Particularly is that so when the individual is of considerable prominence. Paul, God’s chosen apostle to the Gentiles, wrote thirteen known books of the New Testament. His final composition was the second letter to Timothy. The fourth chapter of that epistle contains a concluding exhortation to his faithful young co-worker in the gospel.
This chapter is filled with personal details that warrant careful investigation. It pulsates with instruction and encouragement. It reveals the marvelous fortitude of a man whose courageous heart soon would grow still.
In writing this commentary, I came to know the magnificent apostle as never before—though I have studied his writings for a half century. I have been blessed immensely from being at the feet of this extraordinary man of God. I love him dearly.
I want to share with you a few lines from my book, on this concluding chapter of 2 Timothy.
PREACH THE WORD—2 Timothy 4:1-8
(1) Paul now begins his final “charge” (diamarturomai, to testify thoroughly, cf. 2:14; 1 Tim. 5:21) to his young friend. It is a command to be obeyed. Bearing witness to the admonition is both God and Christ Jesus. Deity observes all that transpires on earth. The distinction between the Father and Son is apparent, contrary to the “oneness” Pentecostal heresy. On the order of the words, “Christ Jesus,” see the first letter (1:1).
The ultimate judgment will be by the authority of God (Rom. 14:10), who has appointed Christ for the terminal task (Acts 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10). The “living” ones are those still alive at the time of his coming; the “dead” are those deceased prior to that event. The “judgment” will not be for the determination of one’s fate, for that eventuality is set at the point of death (Lk. 16:23ff; 2 Cor. 5:8); it will be for the vindication of Heaven’s just cause (Rom. 2:5). [Note: The presence of the term mello (“shall” judge) has led those of the “A.D. 70” persuasion to contend that Paul was suggesting that the Judgment day was imminent, thus it did occur in A.D. 70. Such is quite erroneous. Mello is used frequently in a “weakened” sense simply for the future, and that sense is assigned to this passage (Danker, 627-628).]
The expression “by his appearing and his kingdom” is difficult. It may be a form to accentuate a solemn promise or oath (cf. 1 Thes. 5:27), that is to say (if one may venture a paraphrase), “By virtue of the certainty of his appearing and his reign, you are to preach the word.” The text does not suggest, as some millennialists allege, that the “kingdom” was postponed, and thus is not to be established until Christ’s return. There is a present phase of the Lord’s kingdom (Mk. 9:1; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:9) and a future, heavenly phase as well (4:18; cf. Acts 14:21). The term “appearing” (epiphaneia, a shining; a visible appearance; cf. 2 Tim. 1:10; Tit. 2:13) indicates that the return of Christ will be open and apparent, not “secret” (as with the “rapture” theory).
(2) “Preach” (kerusso) is to proclaim a message publicly; the aorist, imperative form denotes a sense of urgency. “The word” (ton logon; cf. 2:9,15) is the teaching committed to Timothy, the gospel of Christ—not philosophy, human speculation, or comedic anecdotes. The expression “in season and out of season” generally signifies “at all times,” i.e., when it is convenient and when it is not; when men are favorable to it and when they are not. The preaching is subdivided into several categories.
“Reprove” (from elencho, “to convict”; 1 Tim. 5:20; Tit. 1:9,13) conveys the idea of correcting one who is wrong. “Rebuke” (epitimao; cf. Lk. 4:41) is to express strong disapproval, to censure someone with a view of preventing wrong, or bringing it to an end (Danker, 384). “Exhort” (parakaleo; cf. 1 Tim. 6:2) means “to call to one’s side,” with the aim of making a strong appeal, encouragement. These imperatives, however, are to be “seasoned” with “longsuffering” (makrothumia, patience, the opposite of short tempered; cf. 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Tim. 3:10) and “teaching” (didache, cf. Tit. 1:9) refers to the message taught, not the act itself.
(3) “For” (gar) introduces the reason for the urgent instruction above. A “time” (kairos, a period of time) will come when “sound doctrine” (hugiainouses didaskalia, “healthy teaching”) will not be “endured” (anechomai, “to bear with, put up with”). There will be those (even in the church) who will refuse to tolerate gospel preaching any longer. They will not yield to the rigorous demands of the truth; they desire something more pleasing. They have “itching” (knetho, to scratch or tickle) ears. The metaphor suggests an “eagerness to hear.” There is a passage in Seneca where the philosopher asks: “Why do you tickle my ears? Why do you entertain me?” (Williams, 87-88).
That is precisely what these rebels want; entertainment in the place of substance; or perhaps relief from the “itching” irritation of sound doctrine. How familiar this sounds—even in these modern times. Accordingly, they “heap” (episoreuo, to pile up; cf. 3:7; the present middle indicates “they pile up for themselves”) unto themselves teachers according to “their own lusts” (idias epithumias, personal desires). This is the “gospel” of self-centeredness. They will accumulate a hand-picked little conglomerate of “clergy” that will play any “fiddle tune” that is requested.
(4) And from “the truth” (ten aletheias, objective truth, the teaching from God; cf. 2 Tim. 2:15,18,25; 3:7-8) they will “turn away their ears” (i.e., their interest and attention). In the place of “truth” there will be “fables” (muthous, that which lacks the substance of reality; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; 4:7; Tit. 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:16). The proto-gnostics were fascinated with theological fairy tales, as many are today, e.g., those who believe that a “frog,” over eons of time through natural processes, can “evolve” into a “man.”
It should be observed that whereas in the previous chapter, the general conditions that would prevail throughout the Christian era are detailed (see comments at 3:1,5), there is now a focus toward a specific historical period (“the time will come”) that is analogous to the apostasy prophesied in Paul’s first letter to Timothy (see 4:1ff).
(5) “But” (de), by way of contrast, the attention now turns back to Paul’s young friend. Timothy is to be “sober” (nepho, the present form indicates pursuing a steady course in watchfulness); he is to be vigilant, alert, spiritually awake and on the lookout for error and its advocates. As a result of such vigilance, persecution will come, and Timothy must be willing to “suffer hardship.” The Greek kakopatheo is to “suffer evil,” i.e., difficult circumstances which originate with evil people (cf. 1:8; 2:3).
The young gentleman is to “do the work of an evangelist.” “Work” is ergon, vigorous, hard activity. The term is used literally in frequent contexts of agricultural labor (cf. Mt. 21:28). The “evangelist” (euangelistes, “good message”; cf. “gospel”) is one who proclaims the gospel, the glad tidings that Christ came to seek and save the lost, with the instructions as to how to achieve that blessing. For those who entertain any degree of regard for the authority of scripture, this apostolic statement should forever mute the ignorant claim that evangelists, preachers, do not work. The evangelist may have numerous responsibilities as an ordinary Christian man (e.g., visiting the sick, encouraging the elderly, etc.); his job as an evangelist, however, is simply this: “Preach the word!” Timothy is also to “fulfill” his “ministry.” “Fulfill” (pleroo) carries the idea of completion, to fully accomplish, to bring to a successful conclusion. “Ministry” (diakonia, “service”) would embrace the entire scope of Timothy’s service to the Lord; it was that to which he had devoted his life (cf. Acts 20:24; 2 Cor. 4:1; Col. 4:17).
(6) This begins the crowning point of Paul’s final letter. There is an obvious connection to the previous exhortation. While Timothy is encouraged to continue his work and fulfill his era of service to Jesus Christ, Paul knows that for himself the “clock is ticking” closer to his final hour. He begins with a metaphor from the sacrificial service of Old Testament ritual. The expression, “I am already being offered,” literally is, “I am already being poured out” (spendomai, present, passive). In the Old Testament regime, a “drink offering” of wine was poured out before the sacrificial altar preliminary to the offering of various sacrifices (Ex. 29:40; Lev. 23:13; Num. 4:7; 15:5,7,10; 28:7). The present tense may be used to emphasize the certainty of the ultimate event (Knight, 458), or it may suggest that his present ordeal is a preliminary phase of the sacrificial ceremony of which his death would be the culmination (though perhaps yet months away). The passive voice hints that the apostle is the victim, being offered. “He is conscious that he is dying in God’s service, and that the sacrificial action is now commencing” (Kelly, 208). There is no tremor in his pen; he is calm and confident in the offering of himself as a sacrifice to the Lord God. His death will be a grand climax to a sacrificial life for Christ.
The “time of [his] departure is at hand.” “Departure” is from the Greek, analusis, “to loose up,” and it likely is a reference to the departure of Paul’s soul from his body as such would make its flight upward to be with the Lord (cf. Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8). Compare the term kataluo, “to loose down,” of the disintegration of the human body at death (2 Cor. 5:1). By the use of the term “is come” (“at hand,” KJV; from ephistemi, but with a perfect tense form), there is an indication that the time of the apostle’s death is imminent (Danker, 418). Though Paul hoped that his execution was as yet a while away (cf. v. 9ff), he knew it would not be delayed very long.
(7) “I have fought the good fight.” See elsewhere for comments on the metaphorical language (1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12); some see it as an allusion to the Olympic games (e.g., boxing), while others think the imagery is drawn from warfare. The perfect tense verb, egonismai, “have fought,” virtually says that his battle is over. The fight has been “the good” one (note the article); it has not been carnal (as was the case with Mohammed and his followers), but spiritual—against moral and religious evil (Jn. 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 6:12).
The “course” (the race-track metaphor), he declares, “I have finished” (teteleka, perfect tense). No more grueling “training” and “straining” for the prize. He has “fulfilled” his “ministry,” as he urged Timothy to do (4:5). The prize is very near. “The faith” (ten pistin) he has “kept” (tetereka, perfect tense). Again the tense reflects the consummation of his labor. The struggle is over, the effect abides. Indeed it does! The meaning of “the faith” is debated. Some allege it means that Paul is insisting that he personally had remained faithful, in the sense, “I kept my word; i.e., my part of the contract” (see Spicq, 3.113). Others argue that “the faith” most consistently in these letters refers to the body of gospel teaching, thus he had preserved the integrity of the gospel, as in the case of his charge to Timothy in the first epistle (6:20; Mounce, 580). There is a sense in which both are true.
(8) Therefore, there is “laid up” (apokeimai, “to reserve as a reward”; Danker, 113) for Paul “the crown of righteousness.” “Crown” (stephanos, the garland of green leaves for the victor; cf. 2:5) is designated as a “crown of righteousness.” It is not the “crown” that is righteous, but that which is bestowed as a reward for “righteousness.” This is not human perfection, nor anything earned; but it does constitute the fulfillment of a glorious destiny promised to the faithful who have attempted full conformity to the law of God, together with the forgiveness bestowed when the Christian has failed through weakness.
The Lord is characterized as “the righteous judge.” In this descriptive one sees an echo of Genesis 18:25, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The question is rhetorical and implies that he certainly will. The “judge” of verse 8 obviously is Christ, since his “appearing” is referenced at the conclusion of the passage (cf. Mt. 25:31ff; 2 Cor. 5:10). The fact that Jesus possessed the dual natures of both deity and humanity makes him the perfect Judge, even from man’s vantage point. No one will be able to claim: “You do not understand the frailties of humanity; you cannot judge us fairly.” Earthly judges sometimes are corrupt; the Judge of the living and the dead will do equitably and never err (see v. 1).
“That day” (see 1:12b) is the day of Judgment, the “last day” of human history (Jn. 11:24; Rev. 20:11-21:1). Those who have “loved his appearing” are the same ones who have fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith. This is a divine commentary on what it means to “love” his appearing. “Love,” agapao, is an action word; it is the love of commitment, dedication, and service. Here the term takes a perfect tense form, the meaning being, it was a love started and sustained permanently; quite unlike some of the church of Ephesus who “left” their “first love” (Rev. 2:4).
Perhaps this brief sample, extracted from Paul’s final letter, will encourage you to pursue a rewarding study on your own; or maybe even to teach a Bible class on these epistles.
If you think this book could be helpful in your investigation, you can order online.