Images in 2 Timothy
With thanks to James Thompson

By Paul Robison

A youth
minister once complained to an elder: “I feel that my job is to be the captain on the 'Love Boat'.”  He was referring to a popular television comedy where the captain's major task was to see that all passengers on board would be having a good time.  Just as the cruise ship's staff fills the time on board with entertainment, mixers, and recreational activities, this youth minister's work had come to be defined in much the same way.  How did this come about?  Members knew that their children were growing up in a technological age where extraordinary entertainment possibilities bombarded them daily: interactive televisions, i-pods, movies on DVDs, computers, CDs, boom boxes, etc.  They were being shaped by such media, and someone was needed who could keep the youth’s interest and speak their language while promoting spiritual matters.  Of course, they wanted the church to be attractive among all these options, so making the church “exciting, fun, and entertaining” became the goal of these parents for their youth worker.  He was to help the young people's spiritual fantasies become realities, much like the main actor in another comedy called “Fantasy Island”!  No wonder he felt like the captain on the Love Boat (Thompson)!

When Paul
wrote 2 Timothy, the minister's task was an urgent topic of discussion” (Thompson).  In fact, this letter can be divided into four parts: “Some charges to a loyal minister (ch. 1), some characteristics of a loyal minister (ch. 2), some cautions for a loyal minister (ch. 3), and some comforts from a loyal minister (ch. 4)” (Keathley III).  A good two word summary of this letter is “Be loyal!” “The apostle Paul [had been arrested and imprisoned once again and] now [he was facing] his own death.  He knew that his work could go on only if he found a loyal successor.  Paul now turned to Timothy [to encourage him] to continue his ministry” (Thompson).  The most likely years for writing this letter would be between 66-68 A.D.  Throughout the letter, “Paul describes the nature of ministry in images that provide a striking contrast to [our] modern images [for] ministry.  Timothy's task was to follow Paul on a mission that could be dangerous [and a ministry that would be challenging]” (Thompson).  He was not to become the captain of a Love Boat.  So let's look quickly at several images that Paul uses to describe the ministry that his successor would need.  Given that all of us should be serving one another, these images will challenge us all to be more diligent in our service.

The first image is
found in 2:3-4: “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a  soldier.”  This image of a devoted soldier is powerful and provides much food for thought.  First of all, a soldier is expected to endure hardship—it was not an easy life.  Braving the weather, living outdoors at all seasons, carrying one's gear, being underfed, keeping guard duty, and engaging in close combat were some of difficulties that a solider faced.  Christian servants can also expect their share of difficulties: braving false ideologies, protecting members from going astray, engaging in spiritual battles against Satan and his forces, being ridiculed and scorned as “stupid, odd, or out-dated”, being shunned or held at a distance by the majority for our upholding the Bible’s teachings.  In chapter 3:12, Paul says that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  So, we must be prepared not only to endure hardship but also to help each other as we suffer.  Secondly, a devoted soldier is expected to engage in warfare and to minimize civilian affairs.  There are real battles in an effort to overcome a real enemy.  Our battles are just as real if we truly are doing battle with the spiritual forces of evil: finding good companions and good media for your children, helping former addicts to change, standing up for Jesus in a perverted workforce, working for justice within a corrupt organization, speaking out for what's right, even when your position is unpopular.  These are just a few of the battles that many of us face daily.  Concerning civilian affairs, Christians do not allow themselves to become so entangled with aspects of this earthly life that would cause them to become so enmeshed that they forget about what's heavenly.  Power, money, popularity, pleasures, civic clubs, sport teams, and hobby groups do not take precedent over Christ, His church, and heaven!  Those are “civilian affairs” which keep the emphasis on the wrong thing. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).  Thirdly, a devoted soldier is expected to please his commander.  In Paul's day, it was the commanders who went out and recruited others to commit themselves to becoming soldiers and fighting under them.  Of course, our Commander is Jesus Himself, so we strive to live in a way that is pleasing to Him.  “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.  Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's” (Romans 14:8).  What a powerful image is that of a devoted soldier!

The second image is a self-disciplined athlete.  This is found in 2:5 and 4:7-8: “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. ... I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have love His appearing.”  First of all, we see that a strict self-discipline is being stressed.  Not only did an athlete have to follow the rules of the games in which he participated, but there was a ten month training period which also had to be done according to specified rules.  If an athlete violated such rules, he would not be allowed to participate in the games.  Paul's point to Timothy and for us is that we need “to keep strictly to the 'rules' fixed by the life and teaching of Christ” (Thompson)!  Paul did not want Timothy or us to disqualify ourselves by being lax or lazy in our relationship with Jesus.  Secondly, Paul underscores faithfulness and endurance in our Christian race.  Over in Acts 20:24, Paul responded: “But none of these things move me, nor do I count my life as dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”  In this passage, Paul wants to work towards finishing his race by being a faithful participant in the ministry that Jesus had given him to do, and this will bring him joy.  Paul made this statement about 6-7 years before the statement that he makes in 2 Timothy.  The passage in 2 Timothy shows that Paul has endured faithfully in his ministry to the finish line, and he is joyful and feels victorious!  Like Paul, let’s resolve to be faithful and to endure, whatever the obstacles Satan may use, so that we too can finish our race faithfully and joyfully!  Thirdly, the diligent athlete is richly rewarded!  Just as athletes today receive trophies or medals for their victories, so we also will be rewarded with the crown of righteousness.  One commentator made this good observation: “Paul's crown was not merely some garland which he would wear on his head.  Just as the brethren in Philippi, whom Paul had loved and longed for, were his joy and crown, so his hope of heaven and his crown of righteousness were thought of in terms of gaining Christ. ... Paul was trying to gain Christ, and this was to be his true reward” (Spain).  Gaining Christ can also be our reward if we will live faithfully and continue to long for His glorious return!  The athletes of Paul's day were awarded during the games, but all of us can be rewarded together on that Day at the final judgment when time shall end!  The image of the athlete motivates towards self-discipline, faithfulness, endurance, and our victorious reward of Christ Himself!

The next image
is that of an industrious farmer.  This is found in 2:6: “The hard working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.”  First of all, we see that this farmer is described as “hard-working”.  He is using all his energy to nurture the soil, to provide water, and to protect the plants in order to raise a good crop.  Likewise, Timothy and we are to be industrious workers for the Lord.  Secondly, the farmer works with crops, but Timothy and we are to work with people.  We work with the soil of their hearts, provide the water of salvation, and strive to protect them from ungodly predators.  Thirdly, we will one day enjoy an eternal harvest!  Just as the farmer who gets to enjoy the food from the harvest, so also we work with others to lead them to eternal life and will enjoy being together in heaven after the angels have reaped the final harvest!  The image of the farmer shows us the values of industry, spirituality, and eternity!  The past three images of a devoted soldier, self-disciplined athlete, and an industrious farmer show us we on a warship or a steamboat, and not a cruise liner!

The next image is that of an unashamed craftsman.  This is found in 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved of God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  Let's get some context as we look at this verse.  Paul is writing to help Timothy deal with false teachers (verses 14-26).  He starts by giving him some positive actions to promote in verses 14:15, and then he gives some negative actions to shun in verses 16-18.  So verse 15 is part of those positive actions to promote.  Let's begin with the end of the verse and work back to the beginning.  The “word of truth” refers to the Gospel.  In fact, Ephesians 1:13 states: “In Him you also trusted after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”  Timothy is literally “to cut straight” or we might say to be scrupulously straightforward in dealing with Gospel, as opposed to false teachers who use crooked methods (Guthrie).  If Timothy is scrupulously straightforward in dealing with the Gospel, then he will be like an unashamed craftsman who does not have to be ashamed of his product, which are the Christians with whom he works.  The word for “worker” here is also found over in the story about Demetrius and silversmiths in Acts 19.  So, it can rightly be translated “craftsman”.  So why does Timothy have to act as an unashamed craftsman who deals scrupulously straightforward with the Gospel?  Because by doing so, he is striving to win God's approval for his teachings and his converts.  He is not out to please men, but like a craftsman who does his best to present his patron with a good product, so Timothy is being diligent that he himself is putting into practice the things about the Gospel which he is teaching.  One commentator noted: “The value of self-discipline cannot be too highly estimated, for the most effective refutation of error is for the teacher to be the living embodiment of truth, with God's approval upon him” (Guthrie).  Is this our attitude and conduct?  Are we being diligent craftsmen who are scrupulously straightforward with the Gospel to win God's approval as we try to live out its principles and set examples for others?  What a great challenge this image offers us—to be living proof of the Gospel's truth as an unashamed craftsman!

The next image is that of a true builder.  Notice what verses 16-19
state: “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.  And their message will spread like cancer.  Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed from the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past, and they overthrow the faith of some.  Nevertheless, the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows who are His,' and 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.'”  Here are some of those negative actions to be avoided.  Paul wants Timothy not be carried away from the truth by erroneous human arguments which don't produce righteous lives.  When dealing with false teachers and mistaken doctrines, Paul rarely calls names and mentions specifics, but here he does!  Hymaenaeus and Philetus are trying to persuade other brethren with perverted reasoning that the final resurrection has already taken place!  This type of ungodly chatter will only produce wicked lives!  Despite those who preach falsehoods, it does not change the Gospel's truth.  In fact, just as ancient buildings had inscriptions to show their purpose, so God's Gospel has an inscription or a seal with two unchanging absolutes: God know who are his true builders and those are false ones, and all those who are true builders will separate themselves from falsehood and ungodly conduct.  It is interesting that Paul's quotations here come out of the context of those who were false priests.  Look at the story of Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16, and the two absolutes that Paul mentions here are very similar to verses 5 and 26 in that chapter.  The point is that we should encourage others to build on the Gospel's truth and to keep living out in their conduct what the Gospel's truth teaches!  The image of true builder stresses security and responsibility.

The next
image is that of a holy vessel or container.  Notice what is written in 20-23: “But in a great house [a reference to the church] there are not only vessels of gold and silver [those who hold the Gospel's truth], but also of wood and clay [those who can leave the faith and become false teachers like Hymenaeus and Philetus have done], some for honor and some for dishonor.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from the latter [this means that those who are honorable will purify or separate themselves from those dishonorable], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.  How can righteous servants further keep themselves vessels of honor?  Well, Paul spells that out in the next few verses: “Flee youthful lusts, but pursue [diligently follow after like a hunter does his prey] righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart [but don't be a lone hunter, pursue these virtues with other good brethren].”  The honorable vessel disassociates or separates from the dishonorable ones, but pursues virtues with those striving to be honorable vessels.  We all need to be holy vessels.

The next im
age is that of an humble servant.  Notice what is said in verse 24-25: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentile to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition ...”  A servant voluntarily submits himself to doing whatever his master orders him to do.  He does this willingly because he loves and respects his master.  This servant must not quarrel but must be gentile to all the rest of the members.  Paul is not saying he should be gentile with those who are blatant false teachers.  Christ's servant should not waste his time with false teachers, but he should strive to teach and to correct those members who have been led astray so that they might repent.  The Lord's servant knows His Master, and like his Master, he strives to make his teaching so clear that mistaken members will see the error of their ways.  In other words, this servant of Jesus is constantly radiating and generating more light than he is heat!  The servant image encourages us to approach others led astray with wisdom, so the truth may clearly shine forth in cause them to repent!  These three images of a true builder, a holy vessel, and an humble servant show us that we are on a ship of conviction and education and not one of recreation and relaxation!

The next image of a drink offering is found in the first part of 4:6: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering ....”  Paul knows that his execution is imminent.  But Paul does not see his death as a misfortune or a miscarriage of injustice, but as a pleasing sacrifice to God.  In fact, the drink offering was often poured on a sacrifice to give it a fragrant aroma as the fleshed was being cooked.  Paul does not dwell on the painful suffering that will take place, but on the pleasant aroma that God and others will experience through the gift of his life!  What an optimistic outlook on death this image gives us!

The last image
of a hopeful traveler is found in the second part of 4:6: “and the time of my departure is a hand.”  “The word 'departure' triumphantly expresses the apostle's view of the end.  It [is like a ship that is loosed from its moorings at the dock so that it may begin sailing towards its new destination.]  What might seem the end to Timothy appears to the apostle as a glorious new era when he will be released from his present restrictions” (Guthrie)!  Someone has said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice” (Bryant in Rowell).  What a triumphant and hopeful outlook on death this image gives us!  Are our ships in order and ready to sail on?  These two images show us that we are on temporary rafts heading for heaven, not on luxury liners headed for every pleasure port this earth has to offer!

No, we aren't offering you a pleasure cruise this morning.  We see from Paul's images that Christianity is challenging: a devoted soldier, a self-disciplined athlete, an industrious farmer, a skilled craftsman, a true builder, a holy vessel, an humble servant, a drink offering, and a hopeful traveler.  It won't be easy, but all our members want to work it together with you!  May the following prayer be ours as well:

From prayer that asks that I may be sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire, from faltering when I should climb higher.
From silken self, O Captain, free Thy soldier who would follow Thee.
From subtle love of softening things, from easy choices [and] weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified, not this way went the Crucified.
From all that dims Thy Calvary, O Lamb of God, deliver me.
Give me the love that leads the way, the faith that nothing can dismay.
The hope now disappointment tire, the passion that will burn like fire.
[O Holy Carpenter, make me Thy tool; O Flaming God, make me Thy fuel!]”
                                                                                    (Modified Carmichael)

“Be loyal!”  Can
you affirm like Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day!”?  Let Jesus be your Commander by being immersed into His name!  Let Christ be your Captain to help you fight more bravely in the future by asking for His help.  Become Christ's tool, become God's fuel!