Did you know that most of the books that comprise the New Testament are actually letters? These letters (also known as “epistles”) contain both general Christian teaching and specific instructions for the congregation to which they were addressed. As part of our Letters to the Church series, we’re taking a brief look at each epistle in the New Testament. This week, we look at the second of Paul’s “pastoral letters,” written again to his fellow missionary Timothy.
Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy
Start reading it here: 2 Timothy 1
When was it written? In the late 60s A.D., probably not long before Paul’s death. Paul was imprisoned in Rome at the time when he wrote this; it’s believed to have been his last known letter.
To whom was it written? Paul’s longtime friend and associate Timothy, who had worked alongside Paul in evangelism and ministry for many years. Timothy was in the city of Ephesus, where he had been sent by Paul several years earlier.
Why was it written? Aware that he didn’t have much longer to live, Paul wrote to Timothy as a mentor dispensing final words of advice to his protégé. In addition to encouraging Timothy in his ministry, Paul was concerned that false teachings were still threatening the young but quickly growing Christian church.
What does it say? 2 Timothy opens with moving words of encouragement to the young missionary Timothy. Paul dispenses a string of advice, some of it quite specific (even naming individuals in the church who needed to be confronted for sinful behavior). Paul expected that a time of renewed persecution was about to descend on the church, and there’s an urgency in his exhortations to Timothy to stand strong in the faith.
Paul mentions that most of his friends had abandoned him in prison; combined with the specter of Paul’s impending execution, that casts a shadow of sadness over this letter. Nonetheless, Paul doesn’t write out of a sense of gloom or despair; he is reaching the end of a long life lived in service to Jesus Christ, and Paul does not regret his suffering on account of his Savior. His concern as the end nears is not for himself, but for a Christian church that, while enthusiastic and growing, is still vulnerable to false preachers and heresies.
- 2 Timothy 1:7-8: What kind of spirit does God give to His children?
- 2 Timothy 3:1-5: Paul’s sobering description of the trials the Christian church must face before Christ’s return.
- 2 Timothy 4:6-8: A moving account of Paul’s mindset as he nears the end of his life.
What can we learn from 2 Timothy? This letter paints a moving picture of a Christian nearing the end of both his ministry and his life. Any Christian would want to emulate Paul’s attitude: no self-pity, no bitterness, but only a strong desire to use what time remains to share as much insight as possible. That selfless attitude is one that Christians of all ages and at any stage of life can adopt.
Consider these questions as you read 2 Timothy today:
- Do you have a Christian mentor—an older Christian who has helped shape your faith? Could you be a mentor to somebody else?
- Why do you think the early church, even under the leadership of respected ministers like Paul and Timothy, had so much trouble keeping false teachers and ideas out of their communities?
- If you were to write a letter of “final advice” to your children or somebody else, what would it say?
- Imagine that you’ve received this letter from Paul. What might you write back to him in response?