Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness

2 Timothy 3:10-17

 

Opening chapter 3 of 2 Timothy, Paul warns his disciple that "in the last days difficult times will come" (3:1). These difficulties, he writes, are manifest in the increase of man's sin (3:2-5) and the proliferation of false teachers who are forever nipping at the Church's weakest members (3:6-7). Though such false teachers arrogantly assume they have bested God in knowledge and power, their folly is always exposed in the end (3:8-9). In the second half of the chapter, Paul continues this thought, giving himself as an example and issuing Timothy a firm challenge to stand fast and do his duty as a faithful follower of Christ and leader of the Church.

"Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!" (3:10-11). This transition could just as easily read "But you know better," as Paul is drawing a contrast between these false teachers and Timothy's own ministry. The word translated "followed" here is parakoloutheō, which gives the sense that Timothy had carefully watched Paul's life and ministry to conclude his trustworthiness. This same Greek word is used by Luke to attest the truth of his testimony to Theophilus: "having investigated everything carefully from the beginning" (Luke 1:3). Paul knew his own testimony had been a tremendous influence on Timothy's faith, and he offers it again as evidence of the truth of the Gospel.

Paul often used this exhortation in his letters. In Philippians 3:17 he writes: "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who work according to the pattern you have in us." In 1 Corinthians 11:1 he says "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." Here, he calls Timothy's attention to his conduct and teaching-Timothy had travelled and ministered with Paul across the region and witnessed firsthand the passion and righteousness of Paul's preaching. He also watched Paul's persecution for the faith. Recall that Timothy was from Lystra (Acts 16:1-2), and his discipleship with Paul began during Paul's second journey there. It is quite possible that Paul's willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel during his first trip (recorded in Acts 14) was a profound influence on Timothy's conversion, hence why Paul mentions his persecutions in these cities specifically.

Paul's recollection of this persecution causes him to exult in the Lord's preserving him through the fire and praising Him for the good God brought from it. Just as the folly of false teachers will always be exposed, so the suffering of the faithful will ultimately be vindicated. In fact, Paul writes, suffering is a mark of faithfulness: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (3:12). Implicit in Paul's wording is that a Christian who is not persecuted is either not walking in obedience or is not in Christ at all. This should sober us. Many of us would, I fear, compromise the faith embarrassingly quickly in the face of persecutions much lighter than what Paul endured. He challenges us to stand firm, to expect persecution, and to accept it as a purifier of our devotion. Peter echoes this, even telling us to rejoice in persecution (1 Pet. 4:12-14), as does James (James 1:2-4).

Moreover, Paul writes that we should also expect our persecutors to grow more and more debased and aggressive toward Christ: "But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (3:13). It should not surprise us in the least when our conviction and commitment to Christ and His Word are hated by the world.

As I write, the flashpoint of the day in our culture is the acceptance and establishment of homosexuality as a social good. Christians who oppose this shift on the basis of God's revealed Word are increasingly reviled and shut out of the mainstream. This should surprise none of us, in light of Paul's warning here. Many Christians, though, stagger with shock, while others trip over themselves to jettison the Bible in order to be loved and accepted once again by the world. Whatever comes, it is good for us to feel the world's ire and to be forced to choose who we will serve. Paul's advice to Timothy here (in a first-century Roman cultural context even more decadent and godless than today's West) should help shape our Christ-like response to this and the challenges yet to come.

Paul again draws a contrast between the world's thoughts and ways and those of the Church. He hones in on Timothy's own faith and understanding: "You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (3:14-15).

He reminds Timothy that the truth he has come to believe was taught to him-sin and falsehood come naturally, to us, truth does not. Timothy didn't just learn by rote, but he was convinced of the truth, presumably after careful study and evaluation. Paul again puts his own trustworthiness forward as an intensifier, as he was the one "from whom [Timothy] learned them." He goes even further, alluding (as in 1:5) to Timothy's exposure to Scripture through the faithfulness of his mother and grandmother from long before he met Paul. He connects these two influences in the common ground of "the sacred writings," affirming Scripture's "living and active" (Heb. 4:12) nature. It is through this Word that Timothy and all believers are made wise to saving faith-all of it, Old Testament (to which Paul refers here) and New, points to Christ.

Expanding on this exhortation to Timothy to continue in learning from God's Word, Paul writes: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (3:16-17). This passage is often quoted and taught on, and with good reason. False teachers from Satan on down have challenged whether the truth we hold to is really theopneustos, breathed out by God. Witness the serpent's question, "Indeed, has God said?" (Gen. 3:1). Since we learn of the truth of salvation from Scripture, if any piece of it were the ramblings of a man, the reliability of the whole message would be in doubt.

Because all of the Word proceeds directly from God (through the pens of men, 2 Peter 2:21 says), Paul tells us it can be trusted to teach us the way of salvation and also the pattern of God-honoring conduct. It is for teaching, that we may know God's will and ways. It is for reproof, that our sins are convicted, leading us to repentance. It is for correction, turning us from error back to the truth. It is for training in righteousness, that we might be molded into the image of Christ. The Word completes us, restoring the programming of God's design for us that we might again know and do His will.

In light of these wondrous truths about Scripture, Paul has just one command for Timothy and for church leaders everywhere: "preach the Word" (4:2). The Bible is endowed with God's own voice and power, and the calling of every believer is to speak and teach the Word. If we fill our conversations, lessons, and sermons with our own words, we are caging the very lion that subdues error and gives authority to our message. Rebuking false teachers or encouraging our fellow believers with anything other than the inspired Word completely undermines our efforts. As we will see in chapter 4, the world will not listen to our reason, so we must speak prophetically with God's truth and trust Him with the outcome.

Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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