I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close.
– the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:6
For many believers, the knowledge of one’s imminent “departure” helps clarify what is most important in life. The apostle Paul did not fear death. He had no reason to fear it because he knew that, in Christ, death has been swallowed up in victory by the resurrection to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
Still, Paul realized that at the time he wrote his second letter to Timothy in Ephesus, it might well be his last opportunity to encourage his “son in the faith.” Thus, the letter is marked by some of Paul’s most personal expressions of faith and love. He wanted Timothy to succeed in gospel ministry. He wanted the church in Ephesus to embrace Timothy’s leadership, reject false teaching, grow into disciplers, and in everything bring honor to Jesus Christ.
In 2 Timothy 2:14-26, Paul reflected on the importance of truth. For the Christian, Jesus embodies the truth; He is the truth. Thus, to believe in Christ is to be firmly fixed on knowing the truth, sticking with it, living out the truth, and teaching it.
Knowing the truth (2 Tim. 2:15)—To correctly tell the truth, one must first know the truth. The old adage about good writing—write what you know—holds for speaking as well. If we know the truth, we can speak the truth. Paul urged Timothy to challenge believers to be diligent in learning and telling God’s truth.
Sticking with the truth (2 Tim. 2:16-19)—Paul was aware that some of the people teaching false doctrine in Ephesus had “departed from the truth” (2:18). They knew the gospel truth and once espoused the truth but for various reasons had drifted away from it. What could draw someone away from telling the truth? Some people are drawn away by their own doubts. Others are lured away from truth by a desire to be liked and accepted, so they tell others only what they think those people want to hear. Or they exchange simple, truthful speech for “irreverent and empty speech” (2:16). Paul reminded Timothy that those who truly belong to the Lord and want to honor Him should stick with the truth.
Living out the truth (2 Tim. 2:20-21)—James 2:18b says, “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works.” Here is a personal paraphrase of that text: “If you want to know what I truly believe, watch carefully the way I live.” In other words, when someone believes in Jesus—who is the Truth—and thus comes to know the truth, that believer is transformed and set free to live out the truth in both word and action. Paul encouraged Timothy to always live consistent with who he was in Christ: “a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master” (2 Tim. 2:21).
Teaching the truth (2 Tim. 2:24-26)—As Paul reflected on his soon “departure,” he felt the urgency of equipping churches with an enduring model of discipleship. To effectively carry out the Great Commission until Christ’s return, mature followers of Christ must continually “commit [the gospel truth] to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Faithful teachers of truth cannot afford to get sidetracked by “foolish and ignorant disputes” (2:23). Neither should they let anger or jealousy permeate their teaching approach. Paul exhorted Timothy to “be gentle to everyone … and patient” (2:24), allowing the Holy Spirit to do the works of conviction and change that only God can do. The Lord’s faithful servant should depend on the Lord and focus on one goal—gently, confidently, consistently teaching the truth.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.