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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: April 23, 2021
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Greetings and welcome to HBS: “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:b).Please open your Bible and meet me at 1 Timothy 1:18-20.
“This charge (command, direct, or exhort) I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some have made a shipwreck; Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, (1:18a) - the word “This” refers to the command to forbid the teaching of false doctrine, i.e., any doctrine that contradicts Pauline doctrine (1:3). By the by, I point out this command came from Headquarters, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, for He is the Head of the Church, i.e., the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), and Paul is His spokesperson or representative on earth just as Moses was the LORD God’s (Jehovah’s) spokesperson in the O.T. (Exodus 4:14-16).
It is essentially with regard to soundness of faith and conscience that Paul “charged” Timothy to hold fast the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:14-18), and he explained why. A troubled conscience will at the very least short-circuit one’s good intentions and “quenching” the Holy Spirit deprives them of His power (1 Thessalonians 5:19) which is something we are commanded not to do. Furthermore, disregard of the conscience is apt to lead to shipwreck regarding the faith and their ministry, figuratively meaning, God’s Truths and their ministry will most likely wind up ruined on the rocks.
Paul’s emphasizing the importance of keeping a clear conscience before God and this is evidenced by the fact that Paul, in his writings, refers to the conscience twenty-six times and at times discusses it at length. For God will certainly hold people accountable for what they have taught their listeners (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Timothy 2:15).
“…according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some have made a shipwreck;”
“…according to the prophecies which went before on thee” – this comment deserves our careful attention. Many commentaries have substituted the word “concerning” for the word “on” here, but I think it should be left alone. Timothy was expected to be true, “faithful,” to his “charge” since many of the elders in the Church, in their prophecies, had sent him forth with their sincere hopes and prayers. In short, they had placed much reliance on him, or said differently, they had much “riding on him.” So the word “on” here is appropriate.
“…that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some have made a shipwreck;”
I remind the group that Paul and his co-laborers were charged with a sacred trust in preaching the Word of God as they had received it , meaning, nothing added or taken away from it (1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 2 Corinthians 4:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). Thus, they warred against Satan (prominently) and their “adversaries” or those folks who opposed their message re: “the revelation of the mystery” (Acts 14:19, 26:15-21; Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 5-9, 13-14; 2 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 1 Peter 5:8-9).
My friends, if you’re trying to live a godly life (2 Timothy 3:12), then you too are engaged in this great “struggle” just as Paul, Timothy, and those of like-minded faith. The “war” is between good and evil, between righteousness and unrighteousness.
Paul often described these conflicts with Satan as struggles, employing terms from military battles and struggles in the athletic arena:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).
"Fight the good fight" (1 Timothy 1:18b).
"Fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Timothy 6:12a).
"I have fought the good fight" (2 Timothy 4:7).
The heavenly ground Paul charged Timothy to “hold” and defend is the very Word of God for this hallowed (sacred) ground was purchased by the shed blood of His beloved Son. Therefore no soldier of Christ should shirk or disregard their duty even though the battle grows intense. I personally believe this was the purpose of Paul’s words to Timothy, “Holding faith, and a good conscience.” In other words, stand fast, don’t be discouraged, never give up, and “fight the good fight of faith.”
I know I’ve discussed this before, but for all those who are visiting today, the use of the word “son” in 1:18 by Paul does not mean he’s Timothy’s biological father. It is a clear indication of his affection for Timothy. Although Timothy’s heart and mind had been cultivated by both his mother and grandmother, it was Paul who led him to faith in Christ Jesus and then nurtured him in “the faith.” Thus we learn we might have many instructors, Bible guides, or whatever but we normally only have one spiritual father who will naturally care for our spiritual welfare. This was the case with Paul and Timothy the Apostle Paul had become his spiritual father in “the faith.”
1 Timothy is a personal communication from Paul to Timothy sometime after his release from his first imprisonment in Rome, as described by Luke in Acts 28:16-31 and
was written from Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3). After Paul gained his freedom (hoped for in Philemon 1:22 and Philippians 1:25-26, 2:24), he returned to Ephesus. Once there he discovered that during his absence the city was rife with false teaching. This was the sad fulfillment of his prediction he made to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-30. Paul most likely dealt with the false teachers personally, but soon he found it necessary to leave for Macedonia. He then left Timothy in the “hot-seat,” as it were, fully in charge of the affairs and concerns at Ephesus as his own personal representative. Paul was aware of the fact that Timothy had a difficult task to carry out, so he hoped this letter would both equip and encourage him in that undertaking.
The “spiritual battle” was so intense at Ephesus that Timothy had apparently become discouraged (Acts 18:23 – 19:41) circa 52-55 AD. This is not unusual in and of itself. At one time or another every child of God has suffered from discouragement, even depression. This is another one of those things that fall under the category of it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” You can be certain that any time we’re discouraged we’ve taken our eyes off of the Lord and His Word. We begin to dwell on the circumstances confronting us and we forget who we are in Christ and what we’re to be about. This is where Timothy was; he was ready to throw in the towel, as it were. While the counsel of many today would be “see a therapist,” Paul always sought a biblical solution when dealing with the Church. He encouraged his “son” in the faith by reminding him of his spiritual roots. Timothy had been called of God. Evidently he had lost sight of that fact, so Paul effectively draws his attention back to his spiritual roots and the things of the Lord.
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee” (1:18).
Notice, again, the phrase “on thee,” that is, Timothy. Clearly the church elders had confirmed Timothy’s calling of God. They “prophesied” (predicted) great things would be accomplished through his labors all to the glory of God. So, in layman’s terms, Paul is saying, “Timothy, my son, don’t lose your way by dwelling on your circumstances; evil and upsetting as they may be. Get your attention back on the goal, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Why are you so astonished that ungodly men are opposing and threatening you, for it goes with the territory. Never forget that you are called of Him and entrusted with that precious deposit (2 Timothy 1:14).
On this side of the record we know Timothy recovered from his temporary lack of reasoning (setback) because a year later we find him still faithfully serving the Lord when Paul writes to him a second time from his prison cell in Rome (2 Timothy 1:1-2).
Fighting the Good Fight of The Faith
With our Apostle Paul well along in years and facing a possible death sentence at Rome, during his second imprisonment, Satan turned up the heat on Paul’s co-laborers in the ministry. The devil knew Paul would pass the torch or baton of faith to them upon his death. Sadly, one by one they departed from Paul and his paradosis (traditions) leaving the Church without spiritual leadership, which eventually contributed to the religious confusion of the Dark Ages (2 Timothy 1:15, 4:10, 16).
But Timothy stood fast in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. It could well be that the elders predicted he would be the lone voice after Paul’s death to proclaim the message of God’s grace in its purity. Church history bears this truth out for after Timothy’s martyrdom, Paul’s gospel was compromised by the “traditions” and commandments of men. Sadly, it was diminished or made of no account until the Protestant Reformation a.k.a. the religious revolution that took place in the western church in the 16th century.
Please note Timothy’s death is not recorded in the Holy Bible. But according to Church tradition, he remained in Ephesus for the rest of his life, until he was martyred for his faith in Ephesus circa 95-97 AD. Some of this does seem to correlate with a detail found in Paul’s final letters to Timothy. In 1 Timothy, Paul urged his young protégé to stay in Ephesus and battle the false teaching that was occurring there (1 Timothy 1:3). Again, there’s no reliable record of any of this. Also, some people think Timothy wrote the Book of Hebrews before he died because there are more than a few “Pauline phrases” in this writing. For instance the letter closes with the words “Grace be with you all” (Hebrews 13:25), which is the same closing found in each of Paul’s known letters (See Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 16:23; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 6:24; Philippians 4:23; Colossians 4:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:18; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:22; Titus 3:15; and Philemon 25). But, since Hebrews was not signed (authenticated) by its author this too is mere speculation, gives one something to think about though.
For years Paul had dealt with bitter persecution and suffering and he realized that eventually he would be imprisoned and there would be no escaping the inevitable. Thus, Paul prepared Timothy for his departure to be with the Lord in glory. So when Timothy received word that Paul would be executed in Rome it came as no surprise.
But before the apostle’s death he penned these words to Timothy: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: (2 Timothy 4:6-7).
Paul was a “ready” servant of the Lord. He was “ready” to visit Rome to minister the Word there. Here, speaking of his impending death, he was “ready to be offered,”
which is a subtle reference to the O.T. libation. The libation, or drink offering, was poured over the sacrifice as an additional act of worship (Numbers 28:10-14). Paul wanted the end of his life to be looked upon as a testimony, one final act of worship, something over and above that which is normally done.
For “the time of my departure is at hand.” The word “departure” is a nautical term that has the idea to loose the ship from its moorings and set sail. So, Paul is saying he was “ready” to set sail to be with Christ, which is “far better” for him (Philippians 1:23). Paul, in all honesty, could say, “I have fought a good fight… I have kept the faith.” In addition to summarizing his lifelong ministry for the Lord, a notable ministry indeed, Paul meant to encourage Timothy to follow suit or follow after his “pattern,” that is, his example (1 Corinthians 11:1). It was his prayer that Timothy would be able to confidently say the same thing at the end of his life to the glory of God.
“That thou by them mightest war a good warfare” (1:18b) - there are many good and noble spiritual battles being fought today; the battles over abortion and religious liberty immediately come to mind. But even though true Believers stand up for these truths and others, the Church will never turn the tide of this world-system. In fact, opposition against these biblical values or the Truth of God’s Word will worsen as we approach the Rapture. The answer, therefore, is not reformation for the Church will never conform the world to God’s way of thinking. Rather those who oppose the truth need to be transformed by Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). So then, the only “fight” that produces lasting results is “the good fight of the faith.” You see, until the lost are saved and come “unto the knowledge of the truth,” there is no hope for change. “The good fight of the faith” today, then, is to stand in defense of the gospel of the grace of God. This is the basis for the fulfillment of the commission of reconciliation all Believers in Christ have been charged with (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, 6:1-2).
Thus, our marching orders from Headquarters are clear. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Commander in Chief won’t hand out rewards to those who were defending the wrong commission (i.e. Matthew 28:16-20) or trying to make this world a better place to live. God will not hold people blameless if they choose to disobey the commands of Christ set forth in “the gospel of the grace of God” which Paul refers to over and over again in his epistles (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 14:37).
Ministering The Gospel Of Grace With A Clear Conscience
“Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some have made a shipwreck;” (1:19)
Since Paul felt the need to reaffirm this truth, it clearly indicates “some” people back in Paul’s day were careless in this regard, and this greatly hindered their ministry. The word “Conscience” means with knowledge. For example, when the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden ate of the forbidden fruit, “they knew that they were naked” and had sinned against the LORD God. The moment they partook of the forbidden fruit their “consciences” were activated, for we are told that they “knew” the difference between good and evil (Genesis 3:5-7).
Those folks who lived under the Dispensation of Conscience were to do all that was known to be good and abstain from all that is known to be evil. While we are no longer living under the regulations of that dispensation, God has never rescinded man’s “conscience.” It’s still alive and well in each one of us. My mother more than once told us “Let your conscience be your guide,” so along that line we have Martin Luther’s good advice in saying, “It’s a dangerous thing to disobey your conscience.”
Our “conscience” serves as an early warning system; it warns us against wrongdoing. This might be likened to a railroad crossing. When danger is approaching, in the form of an oncoming train, red lights begin flashing as the gates come down blocking access. But the railroad warning system is powerless to stop us from driving around the gates and putting ourselves in harm’s way. This truth reminds me of the time when I was home on leave from the Navy. I picked up my mother and my older sister one evening in my car and we headed out to eat supper at a local restaurant. Along the way I encountered a railroad crossing with red lights flashing and the gates already down. Buildings on both sides of me blocked my vision so I couldn’t see where the oncoming train was or even if there was a train. Against my mother’s strong wishes, I drove around the gate and lo and behold, there was the train, a mere 60 yards or less from us and only one escape route – dead ahead, no pun intended. I floored it and made it to the other side narrowly missing a disaster, i.e., my careless error in judgment.
In like manner, the “conscience” has the ability to warn us of danger, but it, too, is powerless to keep us from sinning. If we fail to heed the warning and sin, we do so of our own volition. There are several consequences for disobeying the “conscience,” the primary one being guilt. The message Paul was sending to Timothy was this, always do that which is right in the Lord’s work (Colossians 3:23-24). Timothy was to abstain even from the appearance of evil for the sake of the gospel and his conscience (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
In closing, I offer this bit of news. Recently a news magazine did an undercover camera investigation of a well-known national ministry. Apparently the tele-evangelist pledged he would pray over each and every letter he received from those who had sick loved ones saying, “God was waiting to heal them!” He encouraged the Lord’s people to send their requests and handkerchiefs, along with a generous gift. The following week what the undercover investigation recorded was the preacher’s staff removing the checks from the envelopes and discarding the letters without even reading them. No one prayed for each request. Therefore, the right answer to the “name it and claim it” or the prosperity gospel of our day is that truth our Apostle Paul received by revelation from the risen Lord clearly revealed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 which you’ll find below:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
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