(An earlier version of this essay was published in Voice: An Independent Church Journal, September/October 2017 (96:5), 28-29.

Second Timothy is one of four “pastoral epistles” written to individual church leaders, but Paul writes them knowing that the churches will read them also. This last letter of Paul’s was composed while imprisoned again in Rome where he awaits conviction & execution (4:6; cf. Phil 1:25; 2:24). A couple years earlier when Paul and Timothy had been ministering around the Aegean Sea, Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to reform the church to deal with an incursion of false teachers. In this final letter, Paul urges him to finalize the reforms, hand the work off to others (2:2), and come to Paul’s aid as soon as possible (4:9).

After a traditional Pauline opening with a persoal prayer of thanks (1:1-5), Paul begins the body of his letter which consists of two major sections. The first half deals with persevering in the face of persecution (1:6-2:13) and second half with preserving the truth despite mounting apostasy (2:14-4:8).

In the first subsection, Paul stresses the need for boldness in the face of opposition (1:6-18). He urges Timothy to kindle afresh his service for Christ, remaining loyal to the Gospel and to Paul despite the negative stigma associated with both (1:6-8a). Timothy must guard the apostolic teaching entrusted to him (1:13-14), being mindful how a number of regional churches had defected (1:15). Paul shares that while he felt forsaken by many, the Lord had encouraged him in Rome through the ministry of Onesiphorus (1:16-18).  All was not lost.

In the second subsection (2:1-13), Paul calls Timothy to endure hardship. To do this he will need the strength of Christ’s grace (2:1). For the ministry itself is to endure, the apostolic teaching must be passed down to faithful men who will pass it down to others (2:2). Paul paints several pictures of endurance: the Roman soldier, the disciplined athlete, the hard-working farmer, and the more concrete examples of Christ the Lord and Paul the prisoner (1:3-10). Paul concludes the first half of the book with a memorable poem about confidence in God’s reward for faithfulness in the midst of difficulty (2:11-13).

Paul begins the second half of the book (2:14-4:8) with a command to refute the false teaching which was spreading (2:14-26). The man of God needs to accurately handle the message from heaven so as not to be at the mercy of those who wrangle it (2:14-15). False teaching must be countered because it has a corrosive influence on how people understand the fundamentals of the faith (2:16-19). The false teachers still had a presence in the area churches, so Paul commands Timothy to separate from them (2:20-23) while ministering with patience to those affected by them (2:24-26).

In the next subsection (3:1-17), Paul prophesies the rise of false teachers. The errorists of their day displayed a special degree of depravity (3:1-5), and their teachings would devastate whole families (3:6-7). These newly minted errors were part of a long history of apostasy destined for failure (3:8-9). Paul urges Timothy to be resolute in light of this opposition, just as Paul himself was committed (3:10-11). While persecution is unavoidable (3:12-13), the heritage of God’s Word is powerful and worth retaining at all costs (3:14-16). In the final subsection (4:1-8), Paul puts Timothy under divine obligation to preach the Word at all times (4:1-5). He finishes by expressing his confidence in Christ’s eternal reward (4:6-8).

The conclusion of the book (4:9-22) outlines travel considerations for Timothy’s journey to Rome (4:9-15). While Paul is not optimistic about his court case, he is about the Lord’s care for him (4:16-18). He signs off with final instructions and farewells before concluding with a prayer of blessing on Timothy and all those reading the letter (4:19-22).