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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy 4

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

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Verses 1-2


‘I charge thee … before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall judge the quick and the dead … preach the Word.’

2 Timothy 4:1-2

You remember the context. St. Paul is near his last hour. He is dictating what is for us his dying letter, and he is close to that letter’s end. He is writing to a man whom he has delegated, now for some time, to a large work of organisation and of order. Timotheus was to do many things; but he was supremely to do this thing, to preach the Word. He was to organise Christian communities, to superintend pastors, to guard and dispense ordinances, to conduct worship. But ‘before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, Who should judge the quick and dead,’ he was to preach the Word.

I. If we ask ourselves what St. Paul meant by this wonderful Word, his own sermons and letters give the answer. It is Jesus Christ, ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ It is He, not it. It is the everlasting Son of the Father, made man, and then made the sacrifice for our sins in His all-precious death, and then made the life of our life, ‘the strength of our heart and our portion for ever,’ in His risen glory. It is Christ Jesus, made one with His own by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is He for us on the Cross. It is He in us by the Spirit.

II. Is there no need to-day to read again that dying charge of St. Paul, and to resolve in his living Master’s name to act it out ourselves? Is it not too true that in the Church of England at large the sermon has declined and decayed into a shadow of what it should be?

III. We need in our English Church to-day a revival of the pulpit.—We want unspeakably an ordered ministry which is also Spirit-filled, and fully conscious of the call to preach the Word. We want preachers so filled with Christ, by the Holy Ghost, that they cannot get away from Him as their theme.

Bishop H. C. G. Moule.


‘You remember that passage in the Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian finds himself in the house of the Interpreter. A painting is shown him there; it is the portrait of the minister of the Word; may we, by the grace of God, live and labour as those who have in some measure caught the influence of that ideal: “The Interpreter had him into a private room, and Christian saw a picture hang up against the wall: and this was the fashion of it. It had eyes lifted up to heaven; the best of books was in its hand; the law of truth was written upon its lips; the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men; and a crown of gold did hang over its head.” ’

Verse 5


‘Be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry.’

2 Timothy 4:5 (R.V.)

Here are four distinct thoughts. They are thoughts of St. Paul the friend of St. Luke. Each thought comes straight and warm from one of the largest hearts ever given to man. Further, each is not only a thought but a charge—a charge countersigned, we cannot doubt it, by the sign-manual of the Divine Master Himself.

I. Sobriety in all things.—‘Be thou sober.’ Be temperate, calm, collected. Keep your heart warm, but your head cool.

II. Suffer hardship.—Clearly the world had a special force for St. Paul and for those whom St. Paul sent forth to battle. In our day it has a special force for some of the clergy, not least those whose work lies in foreign lands, and whose dangers are not only dangers of the soul, but also of the body. But, apart from this, there is surely a meaning for us all, clergy alike and laity, in this emphatic word, which might well be the motto of a great life—‘Suffer hardship.’ In every human life, and at many stages of each life, there is always, seen or unseen, some eventful ‘parting of the ways.’ There is the level, smooth path of ease, and there is the steep, rough path of difficulty; the path of ‘least resistance’ and the path of trenchant daring; the path of tactful—if you will, kindly—compromise and the path, always of outspoken resolve, sometimes of outspoken leadership. But there are a hundred voices always ready to advise the softness of compromise. There is not always ready a voice to recall the old soldierly word of command, ‘Suffer hardship.’ There are times when the sterner voice is truly the present voice of God, ‘Suffer hardship.’ Speak out.

III. The work of an evangelist.—This part of our ministry is the one which in practice we clergy find the hardest. Are we outwardly spoken of, are we inwardly thought of, as bringers of ‘good news’? We can hardly put the question without a seeming touch of self-accusing irony. May God help us, each of us His ministers, whatever our own powers or faults, to ‘do’ more and more some ‘work of an evangelist’ to be welcomed by all classes, especially the poorest and the weakest, as ‘helpers of their joy.’

IV. Fulfil thy ministry.—It is the preacher’s part to shrink not from declaring unto you ‘the whole counsel of God.’ It is your part to pray for your clergy and for those to whom they minister. This is fulfilling our ministry. And surely you will do it.

—Rev. Dr. H. M. Butler.


(1) ‘We cannot hear the name of China, we can scarcely hear the name of India, or Uganda, or Nyassa, without being reminded that to “suffer hardship,” even in the most literal sense, may at any time become the lot—shall we not say the glorious privilege?—“before they taste of death,” or even in the hour of death itself, of some of those devoted brothers who are representing us in the mission field.’

(2) ‘If we know anything of the history of the Christian Church; if we have followed the life of any of her first-rate evangelists; if we have observed how men and women hung on the lips of any of the greater thinkers and preachers and writers—whether Fathers, or Bishops, or monks, or friars, or Reformers, or translators of the Bible, or scholars and teachers in Universities, or missionaries at home like Whitfield and the Wesleys, or missionaries abroad like Boniface, or Xavier, or Duff, or Swartz, or Marsden, or the two Selwyns, or Patteson, or Whipple, or Mackay, or Hannington—if, I say, we have noted the spell which these men cast over those to whom they offered their message, it was, we must all admit, because they were felt to be bringing good news.” ’

Verse 6


‘I am now ready to be offered.’

2 Timothy 4:6

How many of us can say this? Do we not often feel in a strait betwixt two?

I. Things which make it difficult to say with St. Paul, ‘I am now ready to be offered.’

(a) The enjoyment of life.

(b) Attachment to friends.

(c) Anticipated pain of dissolution.

(d) Uncertainty about the future.

II. Things which make it easy to say with St. Paul, ‘I am now ready to be offered.’

(a) The sad experience of life’s ills.

(b) The consciousness of having finished one’s life work.

(c) The joy of meeting friends who have ‘gone before.’

(d) An ever-nearing and enlarging prospect of heaven’s glory. St. Paul had it, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me,’ etc. Many have had it since.


‘Too often, alas! the sad experience of life’s ills is the experience so sad in the case of unbelievers that it causes them with their own hands to sever the silver cord—

Mad from life’s history,

Glad to death’s mystery

Swift to be hurled,

Auywhere—anywhere—out of the world!

In the case of good men it sometimes causes them to say with Job, “I loathe it; I would not live alway.” Doubtless these things are so ordered just to wean men’s hearts from earth, and make them “ready to be offered.” ’

Verse 7


‘I have kept the faith.’

2 Timothy 4:7

This was the satisfaction on which St. Paul’s mind rested when he contemplated the close of his earthly work.

I. When St. Paul said that he had kept the faith, he evidently believed that there was a faith to keep.—We hear much about a Pauline theology. It is a favourite idea. These doctrines are not Christ’s but St. Paul’s, stamped with his peculiar character, and enforced only by his own personal authority. This text proves very clearly that he had no such idea about his belief and teaching. To him the truth which he believed was not a doctrine which he had discovered, but a faith which he had kept. There are schools of thought, and there are revelations of God. Each teacher must be either a leader in the first or a messenger of the second. St. Paul considered himself and boasted that he was the latter.

II. What sort of a creed may one hold, and expect to hold it always, live in it, die in it, and carry it even to the life beyond?

(a) In the first place, it must be a creed broad enough to allow the man to grow within it, to contain and to supply his ever-developing mind and character.

(b) And the second characteristic of the faith that can be kept will be its evidence, its proved truth. It will not be a mere aggregation of chance opinions.

(c) And then the third quality of a creed that a man may keep up to the end is that it is a creed capable of being turned into action.

Bishop Phillips Brooks.


‘The true faith which a man has kept up to the end of his life must be one that has opened with his growth and constantly won new colour and reality from his changing experience. The old man does believe what the child believed; but how different it is, though still the same. The joy of his life has richened his belief, his sorrow has deepened it, his doubts have sobered it, his enthusiasms have fired it, his labour has purified it. This is the work that life does upon faith. This is the beauty of an old man’s religion. His doctrines are like the house that he has lived in, rich with associations which make it certain that he will never move out of it. His doctrines have been illustrated and strengthened and endeared by the good help they have given his life; and no doctrine that has not done this can be really held up to the end with any such vital grasp as will enable us to carry it with us through the river and enter with it into the new life beyond.’

Verse 8


‘And not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.’

2 Timothy 4:8

The ‘love of Christ’s appearing’ is not a simple idea, but one composed of many parts. I would separate four, which four at least go to make it.

I. Manifestation of the saints.—The moment of the manifestation of Christ will be the moment of the manifestation of all His followers. Then, perhaps, for the first time, in their united strength and beauty—declared and exhibited, and vindicated and admired, in the presence of the universe. And, oh, what a subject of ‘love’ is there! Some speak as if to ‘love’ Christ were one thing, but to ‘love’ the saints were another thing; and they almost place them in rivalry! But the saints are Christ. They are His mystical body, without which Christ Himself is not perfect.

II. The manifestation of Christ’s kingdom.—Another part of the ‘appearing’—very pleasant and very lovable to every Christian—will be the exhibition that will then be made of the kingdom and the glory of Jesus. Only think what it will be to look all around, as far as the eye can stretch, and all is His! ‘On His head are many crowns!’ His sceptre supreme over a willing world! Every creature at His feet! To behold that Saviour—your Saviour—everything to all—and still not a whit the less yours. He everything to you; and you everything to Him!

III. The manifestation of Christ.—But there is another thing after which you are always panting. I mean the image of Christ upon your soul. ‘Why am I not more like Him?’ But now you stand before Him, in His unveiled perfections, and you are like Him, for you ‘see Him as He is!’ And if ‘His appearing’ is to appear in you, is not that cause to love Him? It is difficult for any who have not known quiet hours of holy meditation to realise what it will be to see Him—‘Whom having not seen, they love.’

Rev. James Vaughan.


‘There are four attitudes of mind in which we may stand respecting the “appearing” of Christ. By far the worst is “indifference”: and that indifference may be either the dulness of ignorance, or the apathy or the deadness of the moral feelings. The next state is “fear.” There is always something very good when there is “fear.” It requires faith to “fear.” But above “fear” is “hope.” “Hope” is expectation with desire: knowledge enough to be able to anticipate and grace enough to be able to wish it. And here the ladder is generally cut off; but God carries it one step higher—“love.” “Love” is as much above “hope” as “hope” is above “fear”—for “hope” may be selfish, “love” cannot be; “hope” may be for what a person gives, “love” must be for the person himself. Therefore a man might deceive himself, by thinking all was right in his soul, because he “hoped” for the Second Advent; but he might, after all, be set upon the pageant, and the rest, and the reward. But to the individual that “loves” it, there must be something infinitely dear in it; and that one dear thing is the Lord Jesus Christ.’


Verse 11


‘Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.’

2 Timothy 4:11

Our text is one of the few personal references we find in the New Testament to the writer of the second Gospel. He was the son in the faith of St. Peter, and he was clearly a man of great spirituality of life, for St. Paul desired Timothy to bring him to Rome at that solemn time when the Great Apostle to the Gentiles felt that he had finished his course. But it is to the Gospel which bears his name rather than to the man himself that I would like to direct your attention.

I. For whom his Gospel was written.—If you read St. Matthew’s Gospel you will see that it is intended for Jewish readers—men who knew the Old Testament, and to whom the evidence of prophecy appealed. St. Mark’s Gospel never appeals to the Old Testament, never quotes prophecy except once—in the second verse of the Gospel—where we have one short reference.

II. The author of the Gospel.—Then comes the next question. What indication does the book give as to the writer? Remember, St. Mark was, in all probability, not a personal disciple of our Lord, not an eye-witness. Yet no one can read the Gospel carefully without seeing that, as to the greater part of it, it must be the narrative of an eye-witness. It is tolerably certain, from internal evidence, that St. Mark received his knowledge of the ministry of our Lord from St. Peter, St. James, or St. John, those nearest to our Lord. There is reason to suppose that it was not St. James and not St. John. All the best authorities favour St. Peter as the authority from whom St. Mark drew his facts.

III. Characteristics of the Gospel.

(a) It is much more a narrative of events and acts than of discourses. There are no long discourses. Notably the Sermon on the Mount is omitted. But when we come to our Lord’s acts and miracles the case is very different. St. Mark contains in his short narrative nearly all the miracles that are narrated by the other two. If you take out of St. Matthew and St. Luke what St. Mark records, you will have very few of the miracles left. Leaving aside the Gospel of St. John, St. Mark is our main authority for the miraculous events in our Lord’s life.

(b) St. Mark’s Gospel is wonderfully wealthy in detail. If you compare the feeding of the five thousand, as narrated by St. Mark, with the narrative of the other evangelists, you will find a far greater wealth of detail of external action and scene. Or, again, take the healing of the lunatic child—the details of our Lord’s look and gesture. In fact, we may sum up the whole by saying that St. Mark contains the simple direct narrative of an eyewitness who was strongly impressed by the person of Christ. In other words, there is the impress of historical truth.


‘It is upon the Gospel of St. Mark that we depend for so large an amount of our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, much larger than we should imagine. In studying the life of our Lord, very many have been inclined to put aside the Gospel of St. Mark, because it is shorter, and because it only tells them, as they think, what St. Matthew tells at greater length, and St. Luke in a more interesting manner. But that is a mistake. His Gospel is full of interest, full of meaning, and, to adapt the words of our text, is “profitable” for the ministry.’



It is in the steady rising up from less to more, from weak beginnings to a nobler ending, that we are to find the true lesson of St. Mark’s career and character. He does not seem to have been what one would call a strong character. We never see him alone. He seems to be essentially a subordinate character, always second to some one, ever serving God through helping and attending some one else. There are many such in God’s Church.

I. On his own level St. Mark was faithful.—There is no doubt of this. We learn it from the repeated testimony of that leader who at first had seemed to reject him with so much sternness. Years pass away and St. Paul is a prisoner in Rome. Twice was St. Paul a prisoner there, and each time there comes a voice from Rome in which St. Paul remembers the nephew of Barnabas, and speaks of him not merely kindly, but with words of praise and commendation. It is pleasant to think it was so, and to dwell upon the human friendships and kindnesses of those old heroes of the first Gospel warfares. If Barnabas had thrown his protection over St. Mark when St. Paul would none of him, St. Paul could not forget that St. Barnabas had done the same by him when at Jerusalem, after his own conversion, the Christians were hard to convince that he was not Saul the persecutor still ( Acts 9:26-27).

II. Not all who are companions of Apostolic men and Christian heroes are of Apostolic mould or Apostolic temper.—There are those who need the gentler handling of a Barnabas, who want almost a lifetime to bring them up to that standard of service at which other characters can begin. They are not to be rejected. They are to be dealt with tenderly, not pushed beyond their powers, not laden with a burden too great for them to bear. Neither with them is ultimate fidelity to be too suddenly rewarded by entrusting them with too large a measure of Christian responsibility. They take a long time to grow. Yet they may, in their own secondary line, become illustrious too, and then be advanced to higher trust at last. St. Mark became Evangelist as well as Deacon, and at last, after long discipline, became the Bishop of the mighty and the learned Church of Alexandria itself.

III. Let us notice the bearing of this history on characters like that of St. Barnabas. Under God it would seem that the ultimate career of St. Mark was due to the kindly action of Barnabas, who would not give him up. The tender, kindly, genial figure of St. Barnabas is one of the most humanly winning characters in the New Testament history. There is a human lovableness about it which to some seems almost to detract from its spirituality and apostolicity. God has work for all, and let us remember that if a man may count those whom he has helped to save from falling among the jewels of his heavenly crown, then one of the four Evangelists is most probably to be reckoned among the jewels of the crown of Barnabas.


‘It is curious to notice that it is the same Mark still. As the first mention of St. Mark joining St. Paul and St. Barnabas for the Cyprus mission tells that “they had John to be their minister”—i.e. for Deacon—so here it is still St. Mark as Deacon that is asked for. When our version says “ the ministry” it obscures the sense. It should be “is advantageous to me with a view to ministry,” i.e. Deaconship. It is the old word of Acts 13:5; so that as this verse shows us St. Mark’s full and complete satisfactoriness in his capacity, signed and sealed before he died by the Apostle who once rejected his ministration, so too it marks also that after all these years it was not to any higher grade of service that St. Mark had risen. As he had been minister or Deacon to St. Paul and St. Barnabas all those years before, so when St. Paul now sends for him as being advantageous, it is but in the old capacity of minister or Deacon still.’

Verse 17


‘Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.’

2 Timothy 4:17

In the terror of that time, when to be a Christian was to be at least, in public opinion, an atheist and an anarchist, none dared hold a brief for the leader of that abominated sect; St. Paul had to plead alone. Ah, but not alone. He tells us that then once more that Presence he had known of old came and mysteriously overshadowed him.

I. The great martyr’s experience has repeated itself through all the ages; for the Personage Who caused it is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

II.—Our Christian life is in many respects so traditionally easy that it is in grave risk of becoming merely perfunctory. And at the heart of a merely perfunctory religion it is strange if there is not setting in, however imperceptibly at times, the mortification of unbelief.

III. The truest training for some great thing for God is fidelity to Him in the next familiar little thing. And most certainly we shall find, when we look at all into the heart of matters, that full fidelity to God in common life is a victory which demands for its achievement nothing less than the secret of the saints. For this, among other things, the glorious annals of holy suffering are given us. Not only, not mostly, to win our loving wonder for the sufferers. No, the supreme lesson of these records of pain and glory is another. It is the lesson of what Jesus Christ can be in all the needs and all the weaknesses of His people.

Bishop H. C. G. Moule.


‘In the Chinese massacres of a few years ago Mrs. Atwater, an American missionary, found herself face to face with death. “I am preparing for the end,” she wrote to a friend, “very quietly and calmly. The Lord is wonderfully near, and He will not fail me. I was very restless and excited when there seemed a chance of life, but God has taken away that feeling … The pain will soon be over, and oh, the sweetness of the welcome above. My little one will go with me; I think God will give it to me in heaven.… I cannot imagine the Saviour’s welcome.” ’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 4". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/2-timothy-4.html. 1876.
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