Proper 23 • 2 Timothy 2:1–13 • October 13, 2013
By David L. Adams
The Text as Text
Several significant translational issues arise near the beginning of this reading. First, the imperative ἐνδυναμοῦ (be empowered), is a present rather than an aorist passive imperative, indicating an on-going feature of the life of faith rather than a one-time action. In addition, the phrase immediately following, ἐν τῇ χάριτι, should be understood in the context as an instrumental expression (by means of the grace) rather than as an indication of the sphere within which the empowerment of God is to be experienced.
In verse two there is considerable debate over the proper rendering of the phrase διὰ πολλῶν μαρτύρων, as exemplified by the contrast between the ESV’s, “in the presence of many witnesses” (cf. the NIV, NASB, NET, HCSB, and KJV), and the NRSV’s, “through many witnesses” (cf. the ISV, NJB, NLT, GW, and Douay-Rheims). The former understanding of the phrase, originating with Chrysostom, takes διὰ as an indication that what Timothy has received has been heard and approved by others as well, apparently in some specific occasion (perhaps his baptism or consecration for the ministry). The latter translation takes διὰ as an expression of instrumentality (or agency), suggesting that the many witnesses had a role in handing the faith on to Timothy.
The Text as Literature
The section from verse 2:3 through the end of our lesson constitutes a single train of thought centered on the theme of what it means for Timothy to live in the faith that he has received. This idea is expressed through two major elements in the text. The first of these is a sequence of imperatives which begins in chapter one (1:6, 8, 13, and 14) and continues through chapter two (2:1, 2, 3, 7, and 8). The second element that ties this section together is the recurring assurance that Timothy need not depend upon his own strength to accomplish what the apostle is telling him, but that he can depend upon the gifts of God and power of God (1:7, 8, 9, 13, 14) in the confidence that God is able to guard what he has entrusted to his people (1:12).
In our text these two elements come together in two ways, by the imperative that begins our text, “be empowered by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” and through the extended section (2:8–13) that concludes our reading with the encouragement to, “Remember Jesus Christ” (2:8), and which ends with the poetic conclusion (2:11–13) that emphasizes the comforting truth that God remains faithful even if we are unfaithful (2:13).
For the several literary issues related to the “trustworthy saying” of verse 2:11, readers should consult the commentaries.
The Text as Theology
Given Paul’s situation as he writes to Timothy, it should not surprise us that Paul highlights the need to accept suffering. But Paul does not embrace suffering from some misguided notion that suffering is good for you. He embraces it for the sake of the gospel, so that the elect may receive the salvation that comes through Christ Jesus (2:10). Thus, the gospel of Jesus Christ is both the purpose for Christian suffering and the source of the strength by which we may endure it faithfully.
While Paul’s words in this text are rooted in his own and Timothy’s individual circumstances, he nevertheless articulates truths that apply to every Christian, and especially to every pastor, in every generation. Each of us is called to the same single-minded devotion to our vocation in Christ that characterizes the service of a soldier, or the dedication of a prize-winning athlete, or a hard-working farmer. But the key to the Christian life is not the level of our dedication to our goal—even non-Christians can be, and are, dedicated to their goals—but the recognition that our goal can only be attained by the power of God himself. The grace of God creates faith in us, and the grace of God is the source of the power for the Christian life. This life is expressed through our various everyday vocations, and in those extraordinary circumstances when we, like Paul, may be called upon to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Remembering Jesus Christ and resting in his grace we remain confident that even when our faithfulness comes up short, God, who cannot be unfaithful to himself, remains faithful to his promise to forgive our sins for Jesus’s sake.