Proper 24 • 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5 • October 20, 2013
By Andrew Bartelt
The past two weeks have heard the apostle encourage the “next generation” (1:2) to carry on and carry out the gift of God “delegated” to him (1:6) as one of Paul’s dearest and most trusted co-workers in ministry, keeping and proclaiming the “pattern of sound words” (1:13) and confession of Christ (2:11–13).
In the intervening section (2:14–3:13), Paul charges Timothy to keep his focus and stay the course as one “approved by God” (2:1), especially in light of the “hard times” (καιροὶ χαλεpοί, NIV, “terrible times”) of these gray and latter days, of which the persecutions that Paul endured are typical and expected (3:1–13).
Thus the central message of this week’s pericope is to stay grounded in the word of God. Verse 14 ties the Holy Scriptures to the past; what Timothy has learned from his Jewish mother, even from infancy. The term ἱερὰ γράmmατα is used only here, but reference is likely to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, but with the purpose of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. As Jesus himself “interpreted” the scriptures to the Emmaus disciples, the Hebrew Scriptures are “the ones having power to make you wise for salvation (τὰ δυνάmενά σε σοφίσαι εἰς σωτηρίαν),” but only as tied to Jesus Christ as God’s promised and planned fulfillment of the entire story from creation to new creation.
In verse 16 Paul elaborates on the authority, power, and purpose of “all Scripture.” Whether pᾶσα is technically “every” or “all” Scripture, the scope of “all” in light of the reference to Jesus Christ, as both the key to salvation and the object of preaching in 4:2, may well include both the Word that is Christ and whatever extant or forthcoming (NT) writings about Christ that would come to be included in the “God-breathed” γραφὴ.
First, Scripture has its source in the life-giving word of God, which spoke things into existence in Genesis 1 and breathed life into the human ‘adam in Genesis 2. Secondly, this Scripture is “useful” (ὠφέλιmος), purposeful, with a very practical goal, all of which leads to pαιδείαν not in Greek virtue [ἀρετὴ] but rather in righteousness, which in biblical theology is both vertical, from God as salvation, and horizontal, as the new man expresses the righteousness of God in and through Christ into all the world. This is at the heart of what we often call “spiritual formation,” beyond the cognitive (where we have often lodged our expressions of doctrine) to include also our being and doing, all based on our new identity in Christ.
Paul summarizes the overall goal (ἵνα purpose clause) as being ἄρτιος, a hapax related to the verb that follows (ἐξαρτὶζω) and that BDAG glosses as “able to meet all demands” for actually doing/working the goodness of God, as the new creation breaks in through the kingdom of God that again makes his creation “good.”
It is not clear if Paul is telling Timothy to engage in these activities for others or whether they apply to him as one on whom Scripture has first worked (cf 2:15), but both may be in view: before teaching and correcting others, one is first taught, corrected, formed in righteousness. But Paul continues with an exhortation more clearly to Timothy, with God and Christ as witnesses, no less, and in anticipation of Christ’s coming in judgment at the consummation of the kingdom, which gives both urgency and the anticipation of deliverance in the “terrible times” (3:1). Five imperatives follow from knowing the Holy Scriptures as one wise in salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, starting with “proclaim the word” (κήρυξον), both the person and message of God’s Word in Christ (2:11ff) and the “broad” sense of God’s revelation in Scripture (2:9,15, cf 3:15-16).
The four imperatives that follow may pick up the sense of the four “useful purposes” of the God-breathed Scriptures in 3:16, starting with “be ready in the task” (ἐpίστηθι), in both the “good opportune time” (εὐ-καίρως) and the “not opportune time” (ἀ-καίρως, a hapax that suggests a creative word play, not limiting our readiness to when times seem right and creating a merismus that leaves no time out). Then comes the same verb for “rebuke” as in 3:16 (ἐλεγvcw), and next, more than just telling someone that something is wrong, actually telling him to stop (ἐpιτimάw). Finally comes “encouragement” (pαρακaλεvw), modified by two phrases, as the first impv (v. 2) was modified by two adverbs.
Paul highlights the reason for this exhortation and recalls the “at all time” merismus of at the beginning of verse 2 by simply using καιρὸς in verse 3. But he describes a particularly “not-kairotic” kairos in what follows. Such times sound remarkably like our own, but are typical of all times and places until the kingdom comes with power once for all.
And so four more imperatives follow, which could be summarized as “devote yourself fully to God-given ministry at all times, in all situations (both “good” and “not good”), doing whatever it takes, always proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, filling full your ministry.
Application to the pastoral ministry is obvious, especially as one first “disciplined in righteousness,” but the passage speaks to the general incorporation of us all into the story of God’s inspired Scriptures, taught to young Timothy long before his vocation was known. This is the cause to which all in the kingdom are devoted, as the story defines our identity and shapes our lives. All too often the Holy Scriptures are fitted into our story, as we suit our own desires and gather those who teach what we want to hear, even “scriptural principles” for whatever purposes we want to find.
But the story we have learned is about salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. And it is more than cognitive knowledge of Jesus and correct doctrine; it is about our formation in righteousness as those who are the body of Christ into all the world, in all time and in all places, at the best of times and, yes, the worst of times, the “ἀ-καίρως” ones, too.