Though 2 Timothy is not the last letter written by Paul in the order found in your Bible, it is chronologically the last letter we have from Paul before his death. As Paul faces death, his mind turns to the next generation. This letter is a combination of Paul’s concern for the preservation of the truth of God’s Word and the integrity of his preachers.
At a high level, this is a four-part letter whose structure more or less follows the chapter divisions. Paul’s concern for the Word are the bookends (chapters 1 and 4), and his concern for preachers of that Word are found in chapters 2 and 3. With that in mind, we’ll look first at the edges and then the interior of the letter.
Paul opens his second letter to Timothy with a thanksgiving section that thanks God for faithful legacies. He includes his own ancestors (1:3) as well as Timothy’s grandmother and mother (1:5) as faithful believers who ought to serve as examples to Timothy in his life. But this thanksgiving section quickly gives way to the ground of the substance of his thankfulness. For all the goodness that a legacy of faith expresses, it is only as good as the object of that faith. And so Paul turns his attention in vv8-12 to the substance of the gospel message. Specifically, he reminds Timothy of God’s effectual calling (1:9) and Christ’s work of atonement (1:10). This is the substance, the truth, of which Paul is not ashamed because he knows that the same God who has revealed this to him will also guard his heart until the end of the age (1:12).
This is the substance of the Word of God that Paul is so concerned that Timothy preserves. He tells him first to live in light of this truth (1:13) and then to guard the truth for future generations (1:14). In v14, he completes a Trinitarian statement that began in v9, because it is the Holy Spirit who will enable Timothy to guard the good deposit. And so this first chapter reveals Paul’s heart. He is concerned that the Word of God be preserved and passed on just as it had been from his ancestors to him and from Timothy’s grandmother to his mother and then to him.
Turning to the end of this letter, Paul concludes with a renewed concern for the Word of God. He begins this section by exhorting Timothy to preach the gospel “in season and out of season” (4:2). That is to say, the Word must be passed on whether or not it is in vogue. Paul actually goes on to warn Timothy that his preaching of the Word will not be popular soon enough (4:3-4). People will be itching to have their ears tickled with something other than sound doctrine. But Timothy is to persevere in preserving the truth of the Word of God in spite of the fashions of the day (4:5). This is all the more important because Paul himself is moving on (4:6-8). So it is that we see Paul’s concern for the preservation of the truth of God’s Word.
But we also see his concern for the preservation of the integrity of the preachers of God’s Word. Paul begins in chapter 2 with an exhortation to Timothy to be laser focused on his ministry call. Paul encourages him to be focused like a soldier (2:4), an athlete (2:5), and a farmer (2:6). He encourages him to train qualified elders so that they, too, might carry on the gospel of Jesus Christ (2:1). All of Paul’s encouragement is based on the unbounded Word of God and its effect on sinners (2:8-13).
But a laser focus on a call to ministry includes more than a focus on the Word. Paul also encourages Timothy to look after his own soul. Timothy cannot be dragged into “irreverent babble” (2:16). This is what the false teachers are doing in Ephesus, and their false teaching has affected the church (2:17-19). Instead, Paul points Timothy to inspired Scripture as the way to be inoculated from irreverent babble (3:14-17).
In addition to avoiding irreverent babble, Paul exhorts Timothy to guard his heart with respect to his conduct. While the false teachers are “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive”, and so on (3:1-9), Timothy is called to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2:22). By guarding his own heart, Timothy will be preserved as a preacher of God’s Word with integrity.
At the end of his own ministry, Paul is concerned about the future of God’s Word and God’s preachers. He desires greatly that the gospel of truth be passed along after his own passing so that many more will hear the good news of Jesus Christ. He desires that God’s Word be preached even when it’s not fashionable because it is the way to “obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2:10). But for the Word to be preserved, God’s preachers must also remain faithful, and so Paul encourages Timothy to have a laser focus on ministry, guarding both his heart and his mind. With this final letter from Paul, we learn the importance of clinging to the truth.