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 Tim. 1: 13, 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
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
There is more in these simple illustrations than is apparent at
first sight; hence we are bidden in verse 7 to give them a careful
consideration, and if we do we may expect to receive understanding from
In verse 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 11 to 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 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 19 is almost certainly an allusion to
Numbers 16: 5, 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 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2: 4-8). The evidence of other
Scriptures, notably of 1 John 2: 18, 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
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 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 17 and 18 of
the second chapter have given us in few words the case of grave
doctrinal error which was in question. Verse 19 states in general terms
the responsibility that rests abidingly upon all those who name the
Name of the Lord. Verse 20 enforces this responsibility by an
illustration. Verse 21 applies the general principle of verse 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 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
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 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
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 19-22 would be entirely removed from everybody who would be
likely to oppose. Verses 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.