2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Historically, it is impossible to date to the day or even the year each of Paul’s letters. It is even more problematic to estimate how many of Paul’s letters may have been lost. While we can determine the order of most of the letters based on references Paul makes in them, dates are harder to come by. Still, the second letter to Timothy seems to be the last one we still have in our collection.
We can say that because Paul lets us know that he is in prison in Rome. Based on Acts and other letters, we know that Paul was under house arrest, then let out, but again arrested and this time sent to prison. The early Christian historian, Eusebius, wrote that Paul was executed late in the reign of Nero who died in 68 AD.
Based on the clues in Acts and Paul’s letters, it seems likely that this second letter was written in 65 AD, or later.
In any case, Paul knows he is about to die. He hopes Timothy can visit him before that happens. We have no clue whether that happened, or even if Timothy tried to make the trip. Such a trip could take from two to six months, and the church at Ephesus was having a difficult time.
We need to start the scripture reading with verse 1. Quoting again from The Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles, we read; Here before God and Christ Jesus, who stands ready to judge both living and dead on the basis of his own earthly life and his movement, I’m pressing it upon you: preach the word; stay on your toes when you’re on duty and off; challenge, admonish, encourage, using both tact and reason. For the time will come when they won’t put up with the genuine gospel. Delighting only in what they hear, they’ll hire a whole staff of preachers who’ll give it to them the way they want it. They’ll turn their attention away from the truth and will settle for book reports. But you, son, always stay on the beam, be nonviolent, work as one who bears good news, carry out your job. Clarence Jordan
Just a quick side note here. The Greek word that Jordan translated be nonviolent means suffer hardships. But his translation work was done during the height of the Civil Rights Movement when being nonviolent meant to suffer hardships. Many protestors were murdered.
That image is fully appropriate for the meaning of Paul’s message to Timothy. While the church at Ephesus eventually became one of the strongest congregations by the Third Century, Timothy was working in a high-risk environment. Rome considered Ephesus to be the most important city in the Eastern half of the Empire.
The Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the World at the time. It alone accounted for enormous wealth for the city and for Rome. Unknown hundreds of citizens were employed at the Temple, and hundreds of others depended on the Temple for their livelihood. Paul mentions Alexander the metalworker (v. 14) who lead the attempt to get Paul arrested while he was in Ephesus. The metalworkers fashioned idols out of copper, bronze, silver, and some of gold. Every tourist bought a god to the tune of tens of thousands annually. The workers did not take kindly to anyone who did not believe in idols.
The most troubling portion of the above text begins with verse 3. You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. MSG
For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas. TLB
There are signs of this behavior all over America. What happens is that we see something that is wrong—something that God is certainly or likely to be against—and we make that the focus of our church activity instead of the full Gospel.
Example: I am opposed to slavery. Thousands of people in the 1850s opposed slavery, and they eventually lead the nation into a war to end the practice. What teaching of Jesus supported such action? On the other hand, what teaching of Jesus supported slavery? Not Paul, not the OT.
How should Christians act in the face of slavery? And there are more slaves in America today than in 1860. How does Jesus lead us in the face of such a dehumanizing societal activity? Jesus spoke out against the wrongs of his day. We need to do the same. He did not attack people. He did not shoot abortion doctors. He did not throw paint on a woman wearing a fur coat. He did not shout insults at teenage girls seeking an abortion.
If you will, Jesus took the high road. Violence is the worst solution to problems. Christians should never glorify violence and war. Sometimes it is forced upon us, and it is the only human solution left, but it is always a failure. It is not God’s way.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here and here.
Be righteous and do good.