This is Paul’s final and most personal letter. He wrote it during another time in prison to his dear coworker and protégé, Timothy. While we don’t know exactly how much time has passed since he wrote 1 Timothy, we can easily see that Paul’s situation has changed for the worse.
We learn that Paul is imprisoned in Rome, which could refer to his time under house arrest in Acts 28, or it could also mean that he was released from that imprisonment and had another long season of ministry before being arrested again in Troas (2 Tim. 4:13-15). Either way, Paul says that he’s in the middle of his court trial, and it’s not going well. Paul is pretty sure that he’s not going to survive this one. Out of this dark situation, Paul appeals to Timothy, who is still on assignment in Ephesus. Paul asks Timothy to come be with him in prison so that he can pass on his plans for a church-planting mission.
The letter’s design is pretty simple. There are two large sections in which Paul challenges Timothy. Paul first calls on Timothy to accept his calling as a leader (2 Tim. 1:1-2:13). He also asks that, before he comes to Paul, Timothy deals with the corrupt teachers who are still causing problems in the church of Ephesus (2 Tim. 2:14-4:5). After these sections, Paul concludes the letter (2 Tim. 4:6-22).
Christian tradition holds that the Apostle Paul wrote 2 Timothy. This is the second of two letters that Paul wrote to Timothy.
The events described in 2 Timothy take place in the city of Ephesus. 2 Timothy was likely composed between 64 and 66 C.E., about one year after Paul wrote 1 Timothy.
The book of 2 Timothy is a letter written in prose discourse to a young pastor in Ephesus.
Jesus’ grace as a source of power
Faithfulness to Jesus
The comfort of Jesus amidst suffering
2 Timothy can be divided into three parts. Chapters 1-2a encourage Timothy to accept leadership. Chapters 2b-4a challenge Timothy to confront corrupt teachers. And chapter 4b is Paul’s personal plea for Timothy to visit him in prison.
2 Timothy 1:1-2:13: Paul Challenges Timothy to Accept Leadership
Paul opens by thanking God for Timothy and his family. Paul makes sure to specifically mention his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. Both of these women had immersed the young Timothy in the story of the Hebrew Scriptures, instilling in him a deep faith in the Messiah, Jesus. Because of that firm faith, Paul offers his first challenge to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6-18), calling him to reject any temptation to be ashamed of the good news about Jesus or of Paul’s suffering in prison for announcing that good news. Paul has to emphasize that last point because of the negative stigma he had gained from his frequent imprisonments. Even some of Paul’s coworkers had begun to doubt his calling as an apostle. Paul specifically mentions two, Phygelus and Hermogenes (2 Tim. 1:15), who had deserted him because they were ashamed of being associated with an accused criminal. Paul asks Timothy to reject any fear of shame and come see him.
Paul realizes this is a costly request that could put Timothy at risk, but Paul reminds him that Jesus’ grace is a source of power (2 Tim. 2:1). This power source is necessary because following Jesus is not easy. It requires everything you have. Paul likens following Jesus to enrolling as a soldier who strives to please their commanding officer, or to an athlete focused on training their body for a competition, or to a dedicated farmer. All three of these metaphors involve a person who is committed to something bigger than themselves, people who are willing to make sacrifices and endure challenges in order to accomplish a greater goal.
Of course, the highest example of this is Jesus himself. Because of his commitment to the Father, he suffered crucifixion by the Romans. Similarly, Paul himself now suffers in a Roman prison. Hardship and sacrifice are inherent to the Christian life, which is why Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of Christian hope, or as Paul says in a short powerful poem, “If we died with him, then we will live with him. If we endure, then we will reign with him. If we deny him, then he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he will remain faithful. For he is unable to deny his own nature” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).
God’s love for our world has opened up a new hope through the death and resurrection of Jesus. For those who take the risk of trusting and following Jesus, God promises vindication and life. For those who reject him, God will honor their decision and do the same, but their faithlessness will never compel God to abandon his faithfulness. Paul calls Timothy to have faithfulness, knowing that it may come with a cost.
2 Timothy 2:14-4:5: Paul Encourages Timothy to Confront Corruption
As Paul moves into the second half of the letter (2 Tim. 2:14-4:5), he asks Timothy to confront the corrupt teachers in Ephesus before coming to Rome. Their teaching is spreading through the Ephesian church like a cancer. They’ve targeted and corrupted a number of influential women in the church, likely the same wealthy women that Paul had to deal with in his first letter. He doesn’t offer much detail about these teachers’ bad theology, as Timothy already knows all about it, but Paul does give one hint: they teach that “the resurrection has already taken place” (2 Tim. 2:18).
It’s not certain whether or not these teachers are following Greek philosophy’s rejection of the idea of bodily resurrection and think that it’s only about spiritual experience. Of course, they also could have simply distorted Paul’s teaching about the resurrection life. Either way, the problem is that they’ve abandoned the robust future hope of resurrection and new creation and have instead embraced a private, hyper-spiritualized Christianity that is disconnected from their day-to-day lives and relationships.
Paul calls Timothy to raise up faithful leaders who will teach the real good news about Jesus (2 Tim. 2:2). These leaders should avoid the senseless arguments that result from debating with those guys. In contrast, Timothy and his leadership team are to keep the focus on the core storyline and message of the Scriptures, which, in this context, means the Hebrew Bible. “The Scriptures,” Paul says, “are able to give you wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in the Messiah Jesus.” In other words, the whole point of the Scriptures is to tell a unified story that leads to Jesus and offers wisdom to the whole world.
Paul also talks about the Scripture’s nature and purpose. “All Scripture is divinely breathed,” or literally “god-Spirited” (2 Tim. 3:16), a reference to the Spirit’s role in guiding the biblical authors to write God’s word to his people. God speaks to his people through the Scriptures for practical reasons, as it is useful for teaching, challenging, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:15-17). In other words, by reading the Scriptures, God’s people will be prepared to do good.
Paul closes the letter by reminding Timothy that he is probably not going to make it out of prison alive. He asks Timothy to come as soon as possible before winter hits. Paul doesn’t want to freeze in his cell, so he is going to need his heavy coat that he had to leave behind along with all of his important personal documents in Troas (where he was likely arrested). He mentions how Alexander is an especially dangerous man who should be avoided and is probably the one responsible for Paul’s most recent arrest.
Paul further concludes by mentioning how nearly everyone has abandoned him to his fate. His only source of comfort is the personal presence of Jesus, who stands with him and waits to deliver him even if he dies.
2 Timothy stands as a reminder that Paul’s influential life and mission were marked by persistent challenge, suffering, and struggle. Following Jesus involves risk and sacrifice and means inviting tension and discomfort into your life. These things are not a sign of Jesus’ absence. Rather, as Paul discovered along with generations of Jesus followers after him, it’s precisely in those dark and difficult moments that Jesus’ love and faithfulness become most tangible.
Following Jesus involves risk, sacrifice, and inviting tension and discomfort into your life. Dark, painful, or difficult moments are not a sign of Jesus’ absence but opportunities for Jesus’ love and faithfulness to be most tangible.