A little known fact about Spurgeon, one
that may surprise us, is the priority he gave to training for teaching and
preaching ministries. A pastor essentially self-taught, Spurgeon regarded his
training ministry as “my life’s labor and delight—a labor for which all my
other work is but a platform—a delight superior even to that afforded by my
ministerial success.” That is why
at the age of twenty-one and while pastoring a church of over one thousand
people, Spurgeon selected his first faithful candidate to train in his study.
At the end of two years of rigorous instruction, Spurgeon wrote to this newly
trained pastor that he now needed to find “another to be my dearly-beloved
Regarding his training ministry, Spurgeon once said, “it is no trifling work to
pass on the heavenly treasure to those who are becoming its guardians in the
future . . . it is a delicate and difficult service.”
exposition of Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 can help us to
understand this delicate and difficult service better and offer us solutions to
some of the training challenges our generation of local churches presents.
The Background of 2 Timothy 2:1-2
Apostle Paul admonishes Timothy, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace
that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you have heard from me in the
presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to
teach others also” (2 Tm 2:1-2). The
“entrust” theme appears in earlier biblical and extra-biblical texts.
1.1 The Old Testament and Intertestamental Use of the Entrusting Theme
Greek word paratithemi
in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 means “to entrust something to someone . . . for safekeeping
or for transmission to others.” The backdrop
for entrusting the heavenly treasure is found in the Old Testament. The Septuagint
applies the term “entrust” (paratithemi) to the Law (Ex 19:7; 21:1; Lv 6:4 (5:23); 10:3; Dt 4:44).
It also unites the words “guard” (fulasso) and “entrust” (paratithemi) into a cohesive metaphor—whatever
someone entrusts they also expect faithful and capable individuals to guard. Paul also used the term “guard” (fulasso) to apply to what Timothy has been
“entrusted.” The apostle warns Timothy, “Guard what has been entrusted to you”
(1 Tm 6:20) and “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure
which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tm 1:14).
imagery of entrusting and guarding appears in “the earliest tractate of
rabbinic lore,” Mishnah Pirke Aboth [The Sayings of the
Fathers]. The similarity of this text to Paul’s admonition to Timothy is
remarkable and may not be coincidental. “Moses received the Law
from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders
to the Prophets; and the Prophets committed it to the men of the Great
Synagogue. They said three things: ‘Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many
disciples [talmidim]; and make a fence around the Law.’” The pattern usage of
“committed it to” in this text suggests a practice of entrusting the Torah to
the next generation of the group identified (the Elders, Prophets, and men of
the Great Synagogue). “Be deliberate in judgment,” means to “be discerning in
applying the text.” The command to “raise up many disciples” implies teaching
the text to others. To “make a fence around the Law” images the mission of guarding. The connection between
entrusting and guarding the Law is found in well-taught disciples that are
faithful to the Law’s teachings.
echoes a similar connection as he comments on the Old Testament canon. Bruce
says, “In the period between Moses and Artaxerxes (465-423 B.C.) he [Josephus]
appears to envisage an unbroken succession of prophets, guaranteeing the continuity and trustworthiness of the records, which they are believed to have
produced.” What theologians might
call the preservation of the sacred texts entails guarding the transmission of
those texts and entrusting them to faithful individuals.
1.2 The Occasioning Circumstances Behind Paul’s Letter
the Apostle Paul charged Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, he probably drew on the
terminology and imagery of entrusting, guarding, and transmitting the truth
established for him in the Old Testament and reflected in texts of the
intertestamental period. But one must bear in mind a crucial distinction: the
Timothy passage was written to a church leader and for a local church. Applications of this
passage may extend beyond, but must start with pastors and their churches.
nearing the end of his earthly life, is mindful of setting the church at
Ephesus in order. He calls
for Timothy, his child in the faith (1 Tim 1:2) to come visit him in prison,
possibly thinking it would be the last time. Crucially, “Of all members of
Paul’s circle, there was none with whom he formed a closer mutual attachment
In fact, this young pastor “shared his [Paul’s] ministry on a permanent
the charge that Timothy must leave behind, was particularly open to all sorts
of religious ideas. In fact, it
was purported to be the leading magical center for Asia Minor.
Consequently, Paul’s letter is rife with fear due to defection. The apostle
bemoans, “All who are in Asia turned away from me” (2 Tim 1:15). At once we
must recognize Paul’s intense personal grief. They forsook him. True, they also
defected from the Gospel. But Paul’s remark bespeaks the sadness of
abandonment. This is where the apostle turns to young Timothy in order to
address his potential for defecting. Marshall says, “It is not the suffering of
persecution or physical pain which is the primary issue. Rather, it is implied,
the fact of people who are ashamed of Paul and of the gospel makes Timothy’s
loyalty all the more necessary.” Paul’s
fundamental challenge to Timothy is toward faithfulness in remaining stationed
at his post.
2. The Message of 2 Timothy 2:1-2
the text order in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, several questions direct our interpretation
of this crucial passage: To what does Paul refer in the command to “Be Strong”?
Who are the witnesses? What does “entrust” mean? What is the referent of “these
things?” and what do “faithful” and “able” refer to?
2.1 To What Does Paul Refer in the Command to “Be Strong”?
the words “You therefore,” the pronoun “you” functions as casus pendens contrasting Timothy with the defectors
to whom Paul alludes in the previous chapter. The inferential “therefore” looks
back at the unfaithfulness of those who fell away (2 Tim 1:15) as well as at
Onesiphorus’ model of faithfulness (2 Tim 1:16-18). Because Onesiphorus was
faithful by drawing on God’s strength, Timothy must do the same, and then
select others who will follow their example of faithfulness.
imperative “be strengthened,” means Timothy must “be energized.”
The same Greek word for “strengthened” is used of Gideon when he faced conflict
(LXX, Judg 6:34), Paul when he confronted the Damascus Jews with the Gospel
(Acts 9:22), and also others when in the face of challenge. In Acts 18 Paul
warns the Ephesian elders to prepare for conflict because wolves are waiting to
consume the flock. So it is
with Timothy as pastor of the same church. “Only if he himself has been
strengthened with new courage, can he also induce others to be strong.”
Thus, the command to “be strengthened” looks back at Paul’s examples of
faithful and unfaithful commitment in 2 Timothy 1, and forward to his admonition
to raise up leaders who will be faithful in the face of conflict in the next
Paul returns to his concern for defection with a list of those who departed at
the end of the letter (2 Tim 4).
command to “be strengthened” has undertones of warfare.
Contextually, it is a battle motif and underscores the fierce opposition facing
Timothy. Two other Pauline passages admonish the Corinthians (1Cor 16:13) and
the Ephesians (Eph 6:10 ff.) to be strong in the face of conflict. In Ephesians
6:10ff., Paul opens the arsenal of defensive and offensive weaponry with which
spiritual battles are fought. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2, the expressed agency of the
passive verb, “by grace” is grace “as the divine help, the unmerited gift of
Emphatically, it is “the divine enabling that Timothy needs most.”
The new sphere into which Timothy has been brought, “in Christ Jesus,” is the
locus of strength. Defectors
who do not appropriate strength from the ascended Christ jeopardize the Gospel
mission. What is more, “victory will be a reality given their dependence upon
the divine power.” In the
words of Grundmann, “This place [in Christ] is to a great extent charged with
the superior power which belongs to Christ.” God’s power and weapons are available to
leaders whose faithfulness is rooted in their dependency upon Him.
2.2 Who Are the Witnesses and What Function Do They Perform?
interpretations with many variations have been suggested. The first view states
that “Paul uses the idea of an assembly as witnesses,”
a proverbial court that will testify to what they have heard. If we render the
preposition “in the presence of” or “before,” several possibilities exist: the
witnesses are the elders (1 Tim 4:14),
Timothy’s relatives, particularly his mother and grandmother,
or all those present at Timothy’s ordination.
But this view presents some challenges. Not only is it less common to render
the meaning of the preposition dia
“in the presence of,” but also, the passage calls for the witnesses to function
beyond this usage.
second interpretation favors translating the preposition “through,”
suggesting that the witnesses are the source of the information to be
transmitted and not restricted to a particular group of people that witnessed
Paul transmit these things to Timothy. This means that the act of witnessing is
not limited to a single event as suggested by the first view. Several
possibilities for the witnesses exist: those involved with Timothy’s
the many people who have also heard Paul’s message,
or the church at large, but not
excluding those who had heard the message from the very beginning.
While it is difficult to limit the group, it clearly includes those who heard
the message from Paul and communicated it to Timothy.
two views—to testify to and transmit the content to--are not only compatible,
but also, if combined, enhance the complete effect of the witness metaphor.
2.3 What Does the Term “Entrust” (paratithemi) Mean?
in Acts it is used of selecting elders and committing them to God for service
(Acts 14:23; 20:32). Contextually, it is an ingressive use of the aorist
aspect/tense viewing the action from the standpoint of its initiation.
refer to teaching, or is it imagery for maintaining pure doctrine? One might
easily assume that “entrust” is a near synonym of “teach,” in that the trainees
in this case must be able to teach.
What is the source of the metaphor? “In the ancient Greek and Jewish sphere, as
well as the ancient Roman, one finds the legal device whereby an object can be
entrusted to another’s keeping for a specific period.”
In this passage, “the trustworthiness of the trustee was thus most important.”
Unpacking the metaphor, Scott translates this line literally, “transmit them,”
which captures the essence of the metaphor of “deposit with another”
as a pledge, or “entrust.”
focus here and in 1 Timothy 1:18 is on depositing the truth for safekeeping or
transmission to others. The
referent of this metaphor may be found in the previous chapter. Paul admonishes
Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words” (2 Tim 1:13). He then
appositionally develops a metaphor: “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells
in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim 1:14).
crucial passage for understanding this one comes later in 1 Timothy 6:20: “O
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.” In this context, Timothy will
do this by avoiding worldly and empty chatter, stated appositionally “the
opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’—which some have
professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” This clear admonition for
entrusting and guarding is foundational for understanding what Paul will say
more cryptically in 2 Timothy 1 and especially in our passage in chapter 2.
Syntactically, in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, the imperative “entrust” an aorist serves as
an application of ‘be strengthened,” a present. The syntactical relationship is
seen in the translation, “receive strength in order to entrust.” The sacred
ministry of entrusting will require a kind of power and a degree of power
commensurate the task. Only God can supply such strength.
2.4 What Is the Referent of “These Things”?
relative pronoun “which,” anticipates “these things,” tauta.”
What specifically are “these things” that Timothy heard from Paul (2 Tim 2:2)?
The neuter indefinite relative pronoun offers several options for the referent:
the Gospel message to which
Paul alludes when he discusses Timothy’s salvation; “the apostolic message,”
“which includes all of his teaching (cf. 2 Tim 1:13-14);”
“the instructions given to Timothy for the discharge of his office;”
“the entire series of sermons and lessons which the disciple had heard from the
mouth of his teacher during their associations from the day when they first
or even broader, “all that has been handed down from Christ and His apostles
respecting the essentials of the Christian faith.”
In general, it may be “the tradition of the truth,”
that is, “the tradition to be handed on.”
Other options include: “the doctrines he has received;”
“the fundamental Christian truths;”
or what came to be identified in the first several centuries as “the rule of
faith” or “the rule of truth,” that is
referred to by one writer as “a graph of interpretation for the Bible by the
Church of the second and third centuries.”
From Novatian (c. 250) we learn that this was “a summary of scriptural
to which he would appeal. Many of these interpretations overlap.
a different direction, Meyer says “these things” “does not refer so much to the
whole of evangelic doctrine as to the instructions given to Timothy for the
discharge of his office.”
further suggestion comes from the preceding context. In the previous chapter,
Paul discusses the "deposit" (paratheken) of 2 Timothy 1:14, and even before that
to the "sound words" (agiainonton logon) of 2 Timothy 1:13 that Timothy had
heard from Paul.
It is reasonable to suggest that the identity of the “deposit” or “sound
words,” may well be the whole counsel of God that Paul once taught to the same
local church and that he now admonishes Timothy to guard (Acts 20:27).
Would Timothy do any less?
2.5 What Do “Faithful” and “Able” Refer To?
what or whom should the trainees be faithful? There are two interpretations
that may be reconciled. One suggests that “faithful” refers to a commitment to
Paul refers repeatedly to those who depart from the faith. This may seem like
the only option until we consider the emphasis of the context. Many had defected
from Paul and their post in ministry due to hardship and shame. In this case,
“faithful” may mean fortitude in the face of opposition. Therefore, Timothy
must not only select those who will stay within the pale of sound doctrine, but
also, he must choose only those who will stay at their post in the heat of the
battle. He should try to avoid selecting those who might defect.
“Faithful” applies specifically in this context to the defectors, but cannot
exclude their departure from biblical teaching. Crucially, the Lord Jesus
strengthened Paul and considered him faithful, putting him into service (1 Tim
teachers must also be “able” (ikanos) to instruct others.
This second but related stipulation looks at fitness or competence to teach.
Several other passages in which “able” (ikanos) are used help us to appreciate the
importance of God’s enabling. First and simply, God “has made us adequate” (2
Cor 3:6). But second, He “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the
saints” (Col 1:12). Our ability in ministry as well as our blessing for
eternity are both empowered by God. As with the verb “be strong” in verse 1,
the source or agency for enabling is outside the individual in Christ. This
sacred process is all of grace. Paul instructs Titus, another pastoral trainee,
that it is in the act of “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance
with the teaching,” that the Lord enables (ikanos) the teacher “to exhort in sound
doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Echoes of 2 Timothy
2:1-2 resound as Paul reminds Titus that teaching must include both exhorting
and refuting. But God enables both ministry actions.
3. Implications of 2 Timothy 2:1-2 For Our Training Ministries
can draw several points of application from this passage, first discussing the
inferential points, then the clearer mandates of the passage to pastors for training ministries in
their churches or training ministries serving their churches. These include:
Bring all believers to maturity in Christ; Establish training ministries for
teachers; Select only qualified candidates for teaching ministries; Transmit
the message to the next generation of leaders who will guard it; and Overcome
fear and shame by receiving God’s strength for ministry training.
3.1 Bring All Believers to Maturity in Christ
term “others” does not limit those taught to another generation of teachers.
Paul includes all believers, with the understanding that each successive
generation will select and train leaders. With this in mind, the apostle
admonishes Timothy to select those who are faithful, a quality that requires
sanctification maturity. But the focus on teaching suggests that maturity for
the taught ones is a goal.
is said that Evangelicals hold “doctrinal differences to be eternally
But Evangelicalism faces the challenge of having all its ranks participate in
doctrine and not just its intellectual elite. One seminary president suggests
that theological education is moving from a “’clerical paradigm” to a “people
of God paradigm.” He
cautions, “The aim of seminary education is not simply to produce an educated
clergy, but even more so to build up the people of God, to become an educated
congregation in Christ.”
is more, David Peterson reminds us, “If the balance of New Testament teaching
is to be preserved, however, there should be some space for the informal
contributions of members.”
Non-clerical church members should share the concern and the work of guarding
the Church’s doctrine. As James Montgomery Boise once put it, “We don’t have a
shortage of leaders, but a shortage of followers of the one Leader who can
transform lives and nations . . . We need more people who will do things God’s
way and fewer people doing things man’s way.”
Apostle Paul alludes to the deep pastoral care that Timothy has for a church:
“I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare. They
all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:20-21).
“Genuinely anxious for your welfare”—these words clearly demonstrate Timothy’s
pastoral concern for nurturing all of the flock.
3.2 Establish Training Ministries for Teachers
Timothy will need to train these leaders.
In fact, “Entrusting will require training in lesson and in life.”
“At the very moment when the church received the truth, it was told that it had
the responsibility of . . . making it known.”
This, then, may be considered as the earliest trace of the formation of a
theological school, loosely
defined. But leaders such as Luther, Calvin, and others throughout Church
history have all imparted their ministries to their Timothys.
Edwards serves as an outstanding example of one who captured the perspective of
Paul in this passage. “He invited many students like Joseph Bellamy and Samuel
Hopkins into his home for post-graduate training. These students, in turn,
began their own ‘schools of prophets.’”
Like Spurgeon, Edwards did this while maintaining pastoral and other
a school were in view, it would offer the same sort of training that Timothy
had received. It is not a single graduating class, but the perpetuity of the
teaching that is in view. “The context implies that Timothy might act several
times rather than on one single occasion.”
But, like Paul’s training with Timothy, it must be individual, a characteristic
which has lamentably been lost in much seminary training.
Leaders are best known by the congregations that nurtured them.
We should focus less on starting new institutions and more on preparing God’s
people to lead.
instruction will require soul-teaching. Spurgeon said, “A man must know the
truth in his own soul before he can effectually transmit it to those who sit at
his feet. Knowing it, he must live in the daily enjoyment of it. Only as the
Holy Ghost overshadows a man’s mind can he influence other minds in a right
manner. The Spirit of the Gospel must be in him as well as its doctrine.”
3.3 Select Only Qualified Candidates for Teaching Ministries
Not every man will be a candidate. He
must be reliable. In addition to being enabled to teach the Truth, the man of
God must be entrusted to protect it. “At the very moment when the church
received the truth, it was told that it had the responsibility of safeguarding
Our passage does not separate teaching and entrusting. It must be “a school
which has for its object not merely the instruction of the ignorant, but the
protection and maintenance of a definite body of doctrine. That which the
apostle, when he was in Ephesus, publicly taught, under the sanction of a
multitude of witnesses, is to be preserved and handed on without compromise or
corruption as a pattern of wholesome doctrine.”
Martin Lloyd Jones asked the simple question, “Are the men more certain of the
truth at the end of their studies than at the beginning?”
Lloyd-Jones blamed the secular method of training for much of the theological
uncertainty and drift among the ministry training graduates of his day.
put, guarding is the emphasis, teaching is the method. Spurgeon’s response was
that the church training ministry “aims to keep out of the sacred office those
who are not called to it. We are continually declining candidates because we
question their fitness. Some of these have education and money, and are supported
by earnest requests from parents and friends; but all of this avails them
Others shared Spurgeon’s commitment to guarding. Of J. C. Ryle it was said, “He
did not make admittance to ordination easy.”
At the inaugural address for Archibald Alexander as the first professor of the
newly founded Princeton Theological seminary, Samuel Miller warned, “Unless we
examine with caution, and select with sacred care; unless we take counsel of
our fears as of our sanguine hopes; unless we learn the unwelcome art of
repressing the forward and rejecting the unworthy—as well as the more pleasing
task of encouraging the modest and the timid; we shall in the midst of all our
honest zeal for the cause of Christ, be in danger of filling the church with
drones and pests, with clerical ignorance, imbecility, heresy and ambition,
while we fondly dream that we are preparing faithful laborers for her service.”
Ryle used strong words because he addressed a critical problem.
the ordination of Gardiner Spring, Samuel Miller preached, “You are now
invested with the power of ordaining others to the holy office of which you
yourself have been set apart. This power ever has been and ever will be, one of
the most important that can be committed to the minister of Christ.” He continues, “Let your personal
exertions and your official acts be steadily directed against this error. For
an error it is, to imagine that we really serve the Church of Christ, under any
circumstances, by giving her unqualified ministers.”
One group of churches has covenanted together to God in this matter: “Men who
wish to be pastors need to show evidence that they are called and equipped by
God. Where we consider men to be unsuitable for the pastorate we must tell them
history offers many illustrations of selection care. But perhaps the clearest
and most authoritative message is also from Paul: “Do not lay hands on a man
too hastily” (1 Tim 5:22).
3.4 Transmit the Message to the Next Generation of Leaders Who Will Guard It
term “entrust” suggests guarding or protecting. Guthrie says, “The transmission
of Christian truth must never be left to chance, and is clearly not committed
fortuitously to every Christian, but only to reliable men who will also be
qualified to teach others. Two qualifications are demanded: a loyalty to the
truth, i.e. a loyalty
which has to be proved, and an aptitude to teach (cf. 1 Tim 3:2).”
Guarding and protecting requires qualified teachers.
this regard, Marshall warns, “The main point is that the people taught by
Timothy must be both reliable and capable of teaching.”
This requires that a teacher must be: (1) a diligent student of the biblical
message and be thoroughly conversant with its teachings; (2) loyal and faithful
to the divine message entrusted to God’s Church; and (3) actively involved in
the training and equipping of additional workers, a step essential to the
successful progress of the church.
and protecting will ensure the safe transmission of the truth. Timothy “was
responsible to ensure the faithful handing on of apostolic tradition to the
next generation,” which included pastoral
practice. While it is true that
this passage admonishes Timothy, and by extension us, to engage in training
ministries, the clear emphasis of the passage is on the transmission process
without which we will have no message to teach or leaders to conduct. In short,
the apostle calls for loyalty to the Scripture by faithfully transmitting it to
those who will continue the process. In fact, canonicity will
build off of this practice. Roger Nicole argues
convincingly that entrusting has significant implications for canonicity.
3.5 Overcome Fear and Shame By Receiving God’s Strength
for Ministry Training
this is the largest message: receiving strength from God will help Timothy to
maintain a singleness of focus. This message comes from
viewing the verse in its pericope (2 Tim 2:1-23). The message is for a pastor
not to grow weary of defecting leaders, those who have tried and quit for one
reason or another. Rather, the admonition is to reproduce and to select
history echoes with messages about entrusting: Calvin anticipated the potential
for over protection when he said, “Seeing that God has given us such a treasure
and so inestimable a thing as His Word, we must employ ourselves as much as we
can, that it must be kept safe and sound and not perish. And let every man be
sure to lock it up securely in his own heart. But it is not enough to have an
eye to his own salvation, but the knowledge of God must shine generally
throughout the whole world.”
once said, “Provided that we know the truth and are confirmed in it by divine
grace, it is no trifling work to pass on the heavenly treasure to those who are
becoming its guardians in the future.” More recently, John
Piper connects this glorious task with the rigors of Bible exposition. “And if
the written Word of God is the deposit of historical truth . . . then let us
pray that God would raise up generations of preachers who give themselves, with
Calvin–like devotion, to expository exultation over the glory of Jesus Christ
for the joy of all the peoples.”
command to draw strength from God, a warfare motif, applies specifically to
those to whom God has entrusted His sacred deposit and commissioned to guard
it. They must be faithful not to defect and they must be able to teach. But
this will not be easy.
faithful and able leaders from defecting, and prevent unqualified individuals
from teaching: that is what is implied in “entrusting,” and that is how we
define theological boundaries for this generation and the next. Although others
have defected, be strong in the Lord and teach those you train to also be
strong so that they trust God for the grace to enable them to teach others.
They need to endure hardship like soldiers, abide by rule like athletes, and
work hard like farmers, for that is what it will take to guard the treasure and
entrust it to others (2 Tim 2:3-6). That said, the Apostle Paul reminds us that
a one-time defector brought under the nurture of a faithful encourager can once
again became “useful to me for service” (2 Tim 4:11).
surprisingly, measured by some of today’s ministry metrics, Paul may have been
an abject failure.
In fact, we could easily focus our attention only on pastors, like Timothy, and
their trainees, many of whom defected. But, lest we lose sight of the passage’s
focus, Marshall adds, “Moreover, what is important here is the message, and the
‘reliable men’ are important only in that they preserve it and teach it.”
Similarly, Scott states, “The men are important only as custodians of the treasure, and all
that is required of them is fidelity in their trust; for this reason it is
imperative that they should be rightly instructed, and that they should be
themselves men of the highest character.”
Paul’s message to Timothy invites us to ensure sound content. We must “make a fence around”
aged, war torn, and death sentenced apostle tells his beloved son in the faith,
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and
love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it
with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tm 1:13-14, NIV).