Commentary on 2 Tim 2:8-15
Paul reminds Timothy today that Jesus is both descended from David and risen from the dead. This tells us that Jesus is both one of us because descended from a human being and also divine because of his rising from death to life. Since Christ is God, his death has infinite value; since he shares our human nature, he could rightfully offer himself in our place.
This is the heart of the Gospel that Paul has preached and because of that he is now in chains. He is presented as being in prison awaiting sentence or even execution. But, he emphasises, there is no way that the word of God can be chained. There is no way that Truth can be permanently suppressed. Truth always will out (if one may paraphrase Shakespeare). Many witnesses to the Gospel have proved that over the centuries, down to our own day. Prison and torture often have the very opposite effect; they only increase the desire to make the truth known.
So, Paul will gladly undergo any suffering so that those called to believe in Christ will experience salvation in Jesus’ name. No suffering is too great if it brings about the salvation of God’s chosen ones who have yet to believe, a salvation which finds its climax in eternal companionship with Christ in glory.
To illustrate his teaching, he quotes from what seems to be an early Christian hymn:
If we have died with him,
we shall live with him; (cf. Rom 6:8)
If we hold out to the end,
we shall reign with him.
But if we deny him,
he will deny us. (cf. Matt 10:22,33; Luke 12:9)
If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself. (cf. Num 23:19; Rom 3:3-4)
The point to which Paul appeals is that suffering for Christ will be followed by glory. If we fully identify ourselves with the Christ who died on the Cross, we shall also enter into glory with him. It is an exhortation to all of us to persevere in following Jesus, even when it involves difficulties and dangers.
But “if we deny him, he will deny us”. This is certainly not to be understood as a tit-for-tat situation. It is unthinkable that God could act in that way. Rather, if we abandon the Gospel or part of it for some temporary advantage, then we are no longer with him.
Even when we are unfaithful, God himself remains always consistently faithful in his love for us. He cannot change. But neither can he compromise to accept us when we are in denial of truth and love. It is not he who abandons us, but we him. The choice is up to us and, if we are to be free, he must recognise our choice to separate from him.
In the final words in the reading, Timothy is told to tell the people to “stop disputing about mere words”. Paul’s warning seems to be directed at those who are being caught up in the ideas of Gnosticism. Two leaders of this heresy, Hymenaeus (see 1 Tit 1:20) and Philetus, denied the bodily resurrection and probably asserted that there is only a spiritual resurrection (similar to the error mentioned in 1 Cor 15:12-19). Gnosticism interpreted the resurrection allegorically or symbolically but not as a reality. Paul told the Corinthians that if Christ was not truly risen, our whole faith in him was in vain (1 Cor 15:14).
In a final piece of advice, Timothy is told that all that matters in our lives is that we try to make ourselves deserving of God’s approval and we do that by consistently preaching and living the truth. It is a teaching we need to hear and implement in our own lives too.