Read the introduction to the first letter to Timothy.
While the first letter to Timothy showed us that Paul was still free to move about, he wrote this letter from one of his prisons. Which one? One of Paul’s remarks about the Christians who assisted him (2 Tim 1:17) seems to suggest Rome. That would be around 61–63, or even later, during Paul’s second captivity in Rome shortly before he was condemned to death. However, this traditional interpretation was based on a bad translation of this passage. The themes of this letter show that it must have been written from Caesarea where Paul was detained before governor Felix (Acts 24). The letter would have come only a few months after the first one.
Paul speaks about his being a prisoner, a new situation that threatens to be ongoing. Then he focuses his attention on the place of failure and suffering within God’s plan. Apparent failure of many Christian lives after a conversion and promising beginnings and the suffering of the apostle in chains on account of the Gospel. At times, he envisions the worst and appears ready to sacrifice his life, as in Philippians 1:20. But at other times, he comes back to the conviction that we also read in Philippians 1:19: this captivity forms part of his mission and it will enable him to bear witness to the Gospel before the highest authorities of the Roman Empire.
Some people think Paul could not have written chapter 3: it seems foreign to Paul’s style and his concerns. We can easily compare 2 Timothy 3:1-5 with two paragraphs of Romans 1:29-32 and 3:10-19 and see that there is nothing new here. And the rest of this chapter takes up what we read in Romans 15:5 and 13. The style of this chapter might be surprising if it had been a letter meant to remain private but this is certainly not the case. Even though he was addressing Timothy, Paul knew that the letter, not devoid of rhetoric, would be read.
Let us not forget that since leaving Miletus and even more after his arrest in the temple (Acts 21:27), Paul had turned the page. He had said goodbye to the Jewish world as well as to the Greek world that he knew and loved. He was not mistaken to foresee a rather dark future.
Timothy was the first and the most loved of Paul’s assistants. Paul would like to pass on to him his own strength and apostolic conviction. Therefore, Paul reminds him that meditation and knowledge of the Word of God form the foundation of a life of faith and of apostolic activity.
1From Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of his promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus, 2to my dear son Timothy.
May grace, mercy and peace be with you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
God did not give us a spirit of bashfulness
3I give thanks to God whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my ancestors did, as I remember you constantly, day and night, in my prayers. 4I recall your tears and I long to see you that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, 5so like the faith of your grandmother Lois and of your mother Eunice, which I am sure you have inherited.
•6For this reason I invite you to fan into a flame the gift of God you received through the laying on of my hands. 7For God did not confer on us a spirit of bashfulness, but of strength, love and good judgment. 8Do not be ashamed of testifying to our Lord, nor of seeing me in chains. On the contrary, do your share in laboring for the Gospel with the strength of God. 9He saved us and called us—a calling which proceeds from his holiness. This did not depend on our merits, but on his generosity and his own initiative. This calling given to us from all time in Christ Jesus 10has just been manifested with the glorious appearance of Christ Jesus, our Lord, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light in his Gospel. 11Of this message I was made herald, apostle and teacher.
12For its sake I now suffer this trial, but I am not ashamed, for I know in whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is capable of taking care of all I have entrusted to him until that day.
13Follow the pattern of the sound doctrine which you have heard from me, concerning faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14Keep this precious deposit with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
15You must know that those from Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. 16May the Lord show his mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often comforted me and was not ashamed when he found out that I was in prison. 17On the contrary, he showed courage, searched for me and found me. 18May the Lord grant that he find mercy on that day. You know better than I all the services he had rendered in Ephesus.
Labor like a good soldier of Christ
•1You, my son, be strong with the grace you have in Christ Jesus. 2Entrust to reliable people everything you have learned from me in the presence of many witnesses, that they may instruct others.
3Labor like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4No soldier gets involved in civilian trade; the soldier’s aim is to please his commanding officer. 5No athlete is crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6And again, the farmer who tills the land is the first to enjoy the fruits of the harvest. 7Think over what I am telling you; the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
8Remember Christ Jesus, risen from the dead, Jesus, son of David, as preached in my Gospel. 9For this Gospel I labor and even wear chains like an evildoer, but the word of God is not chained. 10And so I bear everything for the sake of the chosen people, that they, too, may obtain the salvation given to us in Christ Jesus and share eternal glory. 11This statement is true:
If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
12If we endure with him, we shall reign with him;
If we deny him, he will also deny us;
13If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself.
Do not fight over words
•14Remind your people of these things and urge them in the presence of God not to fight over words, which does no good, but only ruins those who listen. 15Be for God an active and proved minister, a blameless worker correctly handling the word of truth. 16Do not take part in useless conversations, alien to the faith. This leads to a greater impiety. 17Such teaching spreads like gangrene: I am thinking of Hymeneus and Philetus. 18They strayed from the truth, holding that resurrection has already taken place; and with this they upset the faith of some. 19But the solid foundations laid by God are not shaken; on them it is written: The Lord knows those who are his, and: Let him who confesses the name of the Lord turn away from evil.
20In a large house we find not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay. Some are reserved for special uses, others, for ordinary ones. 21All who clean themselves of what I speak of, will become a noble vessel, useful to the Lord, prepared for any holy purpose.
22So shun the passions of youth and seek righteousness, faith, love and peace, together with those who call upon the Lord with a pure heart. 23Avoid stupid and senseless discussions, since such are the cause of misunderstanding. 24God’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all, always teaching and patient with those who do not understand, 25gently correct opponents; perhaps God may grant them to repent and discover the truth, 26withdrawing them from the snare of the devil who held them captive to his own will.
•1Be quite sure that there will be difficult times in the last days. 2People will become selfish, lovers of money, boastful, conceited, gossips, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy. 3They will be unable to love and to forgive; they will be slanderers, without self-control, cruel, enemies of good, 4traitors, shameless, full of pride, more in love with pleasure than with God. 5They will keep the appearance of piety, while rejecting its demands. Keep away from such people.
6Of the same kind are those who enter houses and captivate weak women, full of sins, swayed by all kinds of passion, 7who are always learning but never grasping knowledge of the truth. 8These people of corrupt mind and false faith oppose the truth just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. 9Yet they may not go very far, for their folly will be clear to all, as in the case of those two.
10You, instead, have closely followed my teaching, my way of life, my projects, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11persecutions and sufferings. You know what happened to me at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. How many trials I had to bear! Yet the Lord rescued me from them all. 12All who want to serve God in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13while evil persons and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
14As for you, continue with what you have learned and what has been entrusted to you, knowing from whom you received it. 15Besides, you have known the Scriptures from childhood; they will give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, refuting error, for correcting and training in Christian life. 17Through Scripture the man of God is made expert and thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Preach the Word
•1In the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by the hope I have of his coming and his kingdom, I urge you 2to preach the Word, in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking or advising, always with patience and providing instruction. 3For the time is coming when people will no longer endure sound doctrine but following their passions they will surround themselves with teachers to please their itching ears. 4And they will abandon the truth to hear fables. 5So be prudent, do not mind your labor, give yourself to your work as an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
6As for me, I am already poured out as a libation, and the moment of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness with which the Lord, the just judge, will reward me on that day; and not only me, but all those who have longed for his glorious coming.
9Do your best to come to me quickly. 10You must know that Demas has deserted me for the love of this world: he returned to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia. 11Only Luke remains with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is a useful helper in my work. 12I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
13Bring with you the cloak I left at Troas, in Carpos’ house and also the scrolls, especially the parchments. 14Alexander the metalworker has caused me great harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15Distrust him for he has been very much opposed to our preaching.
16At my first hearing in court no one supported me; all deserted me. May the Lord not hold it against them. 17But the Lord was at my side, giving me strength to proclaim the Word fully, and let all the pagans hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will save me from all evil, bringing me to his heavenly kingdom. Glory to him for ever and ever. Amen!
19Greetings to Prisca and Aquila and to the family of Onesiphorus. 20Erastus remained in Corinth. I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.
21Try to come here before the winter. Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters send you greetings. 22The Lord be with your spirit.
May grace be with you all.
• 1.6 Fan into a flame the gift of God you received. See 1 Timothy 4:14. Paul tries to give his own energy to Timothy and he reminds him of God’s love and promises.
The sound doctrine… the precious deposit… which you have heard from me (vv. 13-14): see 1 Timothy 1:3. The doctrine of the faith cannot be altered, but neither can it be put in storage. It must be lived, which brings into play our creativity as well as that of the Holy Spirit that lets it be rediscovered each day.
He saved us and called us (v. 9): see Ephesians 2:8-10.
He is capable of taking care of all I have entrusted to him (v. 12). These words invite us to remember the exact meaning of the word “faith.” In Hebrew, for the Old Testament, the word “faith” had the same root as “to be firm,” or “to lean on something.” In Greek, the word that has become “faith” signifies both the trust that could be had in a debtor, and the guarantee given to the creditor. So Paul considers all his apostolic life as the deposit he has placed in God’s hands. Like Paul a person of faith is not deceived by the mirages of a happy life but prefers to use his life in an often thankless labor and persevere as if he already saw what couldn’t yet be seen (Heb 11:27).
• 2.1 Entrust to reliable people (v. 2). We have seen in Paul’s first missions that he took care to establish elders in each community (Acts 14:23; see also Tit 1:6). They must be able to preserve the faith in full. We often give more importance to immediate effectiveness of our actions rather than to doctrinal exactitude. In the long run, there is never an error that is not paid for. Saint Irenaeus affirms that the primary mission of the Church is to maintain in the world a true knowledge of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. See however the commentary on Galatians 2:5.
Then Paul invites Timothy to surrender completely, with the assurance that his efforts will be rewarded.
Be strong with the grace you have in Christ Jesus (v. 1). Christ’s witness must be courageous and strong, as the messenger of the victorious Christ. His own conviction will convince others. He must avoid the many ways of wasting time and getting off track in his mission: idle conversations devoid of value. Things that do not promote a better service of God (1 Tim 1:4): false religious problems unrelated to real life.
No soldier gets involved (v. 4). It happened at times that Paul earned his living while preaching (2 Cor 11:9; 2 Thes 3:7), but now here the letter speaks for those who waste their time in working for a living when the community has the duty of seeing to their needs. For a minister of the Church, work can be a way of placing oneself in the world and in the midst of people; but it could also be a way of escaping the difficulties and humiliations of every apostolic task.
• 14. Return to the experiences of the apostolic worker. In time the converted are tested: some make progress and others are lost. The apostle should not be astonished: no fall, no scandal can shake the solid foundations laid by God (v. 19): the Church will never be defeated.
They strayed from the truth, holding that the resurrection has already taken place (v. 18). Faith in the resurrection was accepted with as much difficulty in those times as it is today, and many wanted to keep the word without being embarrassed by a God who shatters our way of thinking. Perhaps those named here held that a spiritual resurrection took place at baptism and there was nothing more to hope for after death. On this subject, see in the Gospel of John the precision given in 5:28 immediately following 5:25.
• 3.1 In the last days (v. 1): see 1 Timothy 4:1. Even the presence of evil in the Church should not surprise us.
The paragraph 14-17 gives us in a few words a full message on biblical meditation: the Scriptures… will give you the wisdom (v. 15). Biblical meditation is the best means of making faith mature (vv. 15-17). When these lines were written Scripture was essentially the Old Testament, but already the Church possessed and considered as Scripture several Gospels and some of Paul’s letters.
Just before the mention of Scripture we read: Continue with what you have learned—knowing from whom you received it (v. 14). “Tradition” means precisely what we receive from our elders. The reading of the Bible is inseparable from the “Tradition of the Apostles,” which is the “Tradition of the Church,” and it is a way of understanding the Bible, just as Jesus immediately after his resurrection opened to his apostles a new way of reading salvation history. This tradition is the second support of faith.
All Scripture is inspired by God (v. 16) and there we look for a message from God to his people rather than an occasion for personal speculation. The same Spirit that directs the Church has equally inspired the biblical authors.
For many years, we spoke of the ”inspiration” of the Bible, not so much to encourage the reading of it in the family or community, but to affirm the fact of it being without error. It was also because some people saw contradictions between Bible and science. These problems have partly disappeared. Each book is as the human authors wrote it, reflecting their culture and their limitations (before the coming of Christ, faith had not attained full maturity; before rational science, people could not express themselves according to scientific views). The entire book is also from God and every text is part of a definitive message. It is there we find the truth of God, and not in the exactitude of details and literary form, which we necessarily must adapt to our modern language.
Above all we must remember that the Word of God is the normal nourishment of faith. It is not only useful for teaching: Bible reading has the value of a sacrament for the faithful. No preaching, no catechism even though “biblical” can replace the frequent meditative reading of the word of God for the development of faith.
• 4.1 Preach the Word (v. 2): this is Paul’s last advice. It must be the first concern of the Church and of any church leader.
Paul knows that he will not be freed and that he will be condemned to death. He embraces his own sacrifice just as Jesus did.
We find the comparison of the soldier and the athlete that Paul liked so much. In those days athletes received a crown of laurels as a symbol of immortality: As for me, I am already poured out as a libation, and the moment of my departure has come.