Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
In this passage, Paul reminds Timothy of the sacred writings with which he was familiar since his youth and which are able to make him wise for salvation “through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
In this context, the primary referent of “the sacred writings” is the Old Testament. The New Testament was still in the process of being written and would undergo a further process of ecclesial spiritual discernment before becoming the collection of books that the Church eventually determined to be the inspired writings that we now know as the New Testament. Thus, in step with the way in which the earliest Christians discovered Jesus in the writings of the Old Testament, this passage demonstrates that whatever the apocalypse (or, “revelation”) of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12) is, it is not incongruous with that which preceded it. Rather, the in-breaking reality of Messiah Jesus is both surprisingly new and unexpected, and at the same time a cohesive part of the continuous unfolding of God’s redemptive plan for the world which began in the book of Genesis.
Contrary to some Reformation and contemporary understandings of the Jewish religion, Judaism is not, and does not function in Paul’s writings, as the negative religious foil to Jesus and Christianity. Rather, Jesus is the fulfillment of Judaism. Thus, in this passage, the knowledge of salvation is arrived at through the Old Testament as it is illuminated by and viewed through the lens of Jesus Christ. The sacred writings of the Old Testament reveal the new covenant of salvation but only as they are newly received through the hermeneutics of Jesus, that is, as they are illuminated by the word about Jesus, the words of Jesus, and the Word which is Jesus. Through Jesus Christ the gracious work of God amongst the Jews throughout the history of the Hebrew people is expanded and multiplied exponentially in its scope and power. The recipients of redemption evolve from a preliminary epoch in which one faithful people are blessed (namely, the Jews) in order to bring blessing and life to the world, to an everlasting and eschatological epoch in which the salvation of the whole world is achieved and made available to all through the work of the one faithful Israelite, namely Jesus Christ. Here we will address two elements of this text, namely: the person who is the Word, and the purpose of teaching the Word.
If you ask many congregants and preachers what the point of a sermon is, you will likely get answers referring to the transfer and acquisition of biblical doctrines and various theological facts. Yet, while theology is an inseparable and important part of the point of a sermon, both of these phenomena exist primarily to bring us to the real point of preaching, namely Jesus Christ. The life of Jesus Christ, the death of Jesus Christ, and the articulation and exhortation in the way of Jesus Christ is the point of preaching. In 2 Timothy 2:8-15, the “word of God,” the “gospel,” and the “word of truth” are all synonyms for the gospel of and the gospel about Jesus Christ (see also 2 Timothy 2:8). In 2 Timothy 4:5, after exhorting Timothy to preach the word at all times, Paul concludes the passage by exhorting him to fulfill his ministry of preaching and teaching precisely by doing “the work of an evangelist.” The Greek word euaggelistes (literally “proclaimer of the gospel” or “gospeller”) is most often translated as “evangelist.” However, that translation can be problematic given that most contemporary readers will equate “evangelism” with an act of proclamation that occurs outside of the Church to non-believers, while employing the word “preaching” to describe the form of teaching that is undertaken within the congregation toward believers as an act of edification. Yet, this distinction — with its contrasting images of gospel tracts and street preaching on the one hand, compared to congregational pulpiteering on the other — should not be read into the 1st century context of the epistle. In the original context, “gospeling” or “evangelizing” is yet another synonym for Timothy’s “ministry” which consists of preaching and teaching. Evangelism, the “proclamation the gospel”, “gospelling etc. is not something separate from the preaching of the Word; it is the preaching of the Word, both outside and inside the Church, for both non-Christians and Christians.
This brings us to the fulcrum of our digest on the Holy Scripture today, namely, that the purpose of preaching is both to bring us to Jesus and his salvation (2 Timothy 3:15), and to equip us for the good works which flow out of that saving reality and relationship (verse 17). In 3:17 Paul expressly states — through what in the original language is a clear example of a Greek purpose clause — that the purpose of teaching, correction, reproof, and training in righteousness is that the Christian might be “complete” and “equipped for every good work.” The Greek word translated as “complete” (English Standard Version) or “proficient” (New Revised Standard Version) is “artios” which, according to the standard Greek lexicon, means to be “well fitted for some function” (BDAG, p. 136). What is the function unto which the preaching of the gospel prepares us? Answer: the performance of gospel-infused good works unto the glory and magnification of God in Jesus Christ.
Thus, the evangelistic preaching of the word of God, the gospel, is aimed at bringing us salvation through faith in Christ so that we might be faithful followers of Christ. The gospel is not merely about the salvation which we receive through faith in Christ; it is about the salvation which we bring to the world through our faithfulness to Christ. The gospel tells us the story of the death-defeating, world-transforming, cosmic-redemptive work of Jesus in order that we might work as ambassadors for Jesus towards the reconciliation of all things (see also 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). The person who is preached is Jesus, and the purpose of the preaching is unto the instantiation of the inseparable reality of both the personal embrace of Jesus by faith for our salvation, and the active embodiment of Jesus through our works for the life and benefit of the Church and the world. Therefore, let us remember that the works that result from a life transformed by a relationship with Jesus Christ are not peripheral to the gospel and they do not function as mere evidences of the gospel. Rather, gospel works are the necessary result of the gospel (see also Ephesians 2:10), the inseparable and authentic response to the gospel (see also James 2:22-24; 26, “faith without works is dead”; see also Philippians 2:12; Galatians 5:6), and a major aim and point of the preaching of the gospel (2 Timothy 3:17). When people see the work of salvation that Christ has done in us through our faithful works empowered by him, they encounter Jesus. And, when they encounter Jesus, he begins a new work of salvation in them and invites them into the transformative, gospel work by which he is reconciling all things to himself, through himself, by means of his Body, the Church.