“But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Paul has made another shift from the false teachers back to Timothy. He has been going back and forth between them for some time. In 2:14-19 Timothy is exhorted that neither he nor his students are to be distracted by arguments and word battles but are to separate from them. The following two verses (vv. 20-21) focus upon those vessels purposed for dishonor that make such word battles. The attention goes back to Timothy in vv. 22-26 as Paul commands him to flee immaturity, pursue righteousness, and reject stupid and ignorant debates. Chapter 3 begins with a shift back to those who make such debates, engage in word battles, and are vessels purposed for dishonor. They are in fact hedonistic little devils from which come all sorts of false teachers.
This shift back to Timothy is the final one. Paul will make mention of the opposition again (4:3-4), but only to enforce his exhortations to Timothy. The remainder of this letter, the next 30 verses, is directed specifically to Paul’s beloved son in the faith.
The rest of chapter 3 (vv. 10-17) is really a single thought. Paul is reminding and encouraging Timothy to respond faithfully to a wicked and perverse generation of hedonistic devils that infiltrate Christ’s church (3:1-5) and lead the vulnerable into damnation (3:6-9). Paul prepares Timothy to respond by first commending Timothy’s faithfulness (vv. 10-13), and then commanding Timothy to stand upon the firm foundation of truth (vv. 14-17). Here we will examine only the first part of Paul’s commendation of Timothy’s faithfulness.
As we study this commendation of Timothy, we will see a pattern of faithfulness. As we desire both to be and to train faithful followers of Christ, there are two realities of faithfulness that are identifiable and non-negotiable.
Faithfulness is Objectively Demonstrable (v. 10)
“But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance”
The most recent update (1995) of the NASB begins v. 10 “Now you…” but the older versions (1977) suggest a contrast, “But you…” This is a more accurate understanding, for Paul begins by contrasting Timothy to the false teachers. The false teachers were compared to Jannes and Jambres who stood opposed to the truth of God. Timothy is unlike them because he followed Paul rather than opposed him.
The verb followed here looks at the whole picture of Timothy’s ministry. It makes no comment on the beginning or end, but simply reveals the objective fact that Timothy followed Paul. The term (παρακολουθέω) indicates much more than the idea of mindless obedience. It is not as if Timothy just studied the material in order to give the desired answers for a test. To follow means to take ownership and embrace as one’s own.
Side Note: Those that suggest that Timothy was somehow vacillating and on the verge of giving up or of softening the gospel message must contend with this verse. Paul here commends Timothy that he has embraced and owned every aspect of Paul’s life and ministry in such a holistic way that leaves no room for a present state of wavering.
What follows is a list of qualities and concepts that Paul has laid out before Timothy. Paul is not only saying that Timothy mimicked Paul, but that he embraced all of these qualities as his own. He owned them.
Ownership of Doctrine – The first quality that Paul commends Timothy for is that he has followed Paul’s teaching. Paul arranged this list most purposefully and it begins here. A pastor is more than a Bible teacher, but he is never, ever less than a Bible teacher. This is the most basic and fundamental aspect of the ministry. Paul does not say that Timothy has intellectually agreed with his teaching, but that he has embraced it and made it his own.
We cannot forget the full-orbed idea of what Paul means by teaching. This is not a simplistic abbreviation for a mythical upper tier of the most important doctrines like the trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, or salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Paul’s teaching encompassed the totality of Scripture and covers all ten categories of systematic theology. Timothy has followed all of Paul’s teaching. Not just to the point where he could sign some sort of doctrinal statement. He has embraced it all, believed it all, and owned it all.
Ownership of Life – It is necessary for this to be the second quality in the list, for right doctrine must be accompanied by right conduct. It is possible to have a pristine and orthodox theology and yet lead an unholy life. It is a fool’s errand to pit doctrine against living, as if one were more important than the other. There will never be holy living so long as our doctrine is tainted. But that doctrine must become manifest in our lives. The problem facing Timothy is that these false teachers are preaching contrary to Paul’s teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-7) and also living contrary to Paul’s conduct (2 Tim. 3:6-9). Timothy has embraced Paul’s own way of living.
There is no better example of Paul’s conduct among the churches than 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12. It is here that Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica how he came among them humbly, gently, and sacrificially with their best interest in view. Timothy was not only present to see this conduct firsthand but also affirmed Paul’s words when he co-authored the letter (1 Thess. 1:1). It is this same conduct that Timothy molded, mimicked, embraced, and owned.
Ownership of Purpose – The term Paul uses here (προθέσει) speaks of his resolve or his plan. Our English word “thesis” or position comes from this same root. This is where we begin to understand the genius in the way Paul arranged this list. Paul’s purpose stems from his teaching and his conduct. All that he believed/taught and all that he demonstrated was to accomplish a specific plan of action and to demonstrate his position. All the remaining items on the list help to flesh out this plan and position.
Faith here (τῇ πίστει) is taken simply as trust or belief. Paul not only taught that man must trust in the accomplished work of Christ alone for salvation, but also demonstrated his daily trust in Christ for strength, wisdom, and endurance. Paul’s faith was not a one-time confession of trust, but was a daily, sometimes hourly, dependence upon Christ.
Patience (τῇ μακροθυμίᾳ) or more literally long-suffering speaks to the ability to remain tranquil under pressure. The ministry requires tremendous patience and immense long-suffering as the sheep struggle to understand God’s Word and put His commands into practice. This patience is born in sound teaching, because the preacher knows that change comes only from changed hearts through the teaching of sound doctrine. Paul’s long-suffering was simply an extension of his faith in Scripture.
Love (τῇ ἀγάπῃ) looks only to the needs and benefit of others without consideration of self. Again, we can refer to 1 Thessalonians 2 (vv. 9-12) as Paul labored tirelessly so that they might grow in knowledge and in holiness. He did not simply teach love but also demonstrated love. It is by this we know that Paul was most assuredly one of Christ’s disciples (Jn. 13:35). Timothy did not only witness this love in action, he was there loving and laboring alongside of Paul.
Perseverance (τῇ ὑπομονῇ) is the idea of endurance under pressure fueled by an expectation of a desirable outcome. Perseverance is almost inseparable from hope. Hope is the assured expectation of something, not just a wistful longing for something. People fail to persevere because they either have no hope or their hope has been disproven. Paul taught and demonstrated time and again the need to endure under pressure, as is fleshed out in the next few verses.
Faithfulness is Born from Accurate Expectations (vv. 11-13)
“persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived”
Persecutions and sufferings conclude this list of Paul’s qualities that Timothy has embraced as his own. But there is a shift here from concepts (faith, patience, love, perseverance) to concrete actions (persecution and suffering). There’s also a shift in addressing what Paul has taught and demonstrated actively, that is, what he has done and has taught, to what was done to him and how he reacted.
But we must not lose focus on why Paul mentions these things. Paul is not puffing out his own chest by recounting old war-stories. He is demonstrating to Timothy the power of accurate expectations and the faithfulness that stems from them.
Expectations from our Fathers (v. 11) – Paul zeroes in on specific persecutions and sufferings by recounting his first missionary trip to the Galatian region (Acts 13-14). At Pisidian Antioch Paul and Barnabas were eventually driven out of town by angry Jews (Acts 13:14). From there they went to Iconium where a similar scenario plays out. The Jews of Iconium stirred up the city and intended to kill Paul and Barnabas, forcing them to flee the city (Acts 14:1-5). The team then came to Lystra, were they were first treated as pagan gods come in the flesh, then disavowed. The Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium followed the team to Lystra, stirred up the crowd, stoned Paul, and left him for dead (Acts 14:6-19). Paul amazingly survived the stoning, picked himself up, and re-entered the city. The Lord had truly rescued Paul out of every single one of these persecutions!
It is important to note that Paul does not say that the Lord kept him out of persecutions, but that He rescued me out of them. Paul experienced all kinds of persecution and suffering, yet the Lord did not allow Paul to fall to them. Even when these persecutions result in martyrdom, the Lord rescues His own and brings them safely into His kingdom. The Lord has done this time and again so there’s no reason to doubt that He will continue to do so.
But what purpose does this verse have to Timothy? Remember that Timothy came from this very region. When Paul came back through these same churches on a second missionary journey, it was in Lystra the place where he was stoned and left for dead) that he found Timothy (Acts 16:1). Timothy had undoubtedly heard of the troubles Paul and Barnabas had faced on the way through Galatia and had possibly witnessed with his own eyes the brutal stoning of Paul. Yet when Paul came back through, Timothy left with him. From the very beginning of his conversion and ministry, Timothy had a very accurate expectation of suffering for the sake of the gospel.
Expectations from Scripture (v. 12) – I fail to see how this could possibly be misunderstood. Christians must expect to suffer persecution. Please note that this is not describing a subgroup of super-Christians. If you do not desire to live a godly life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, you aren’t a Christian. Any advocating that this is your best life now or that Christianity is security against suffering has clearly never read the Bible. This is not even close to the first time Christians have been warned about this fact. Paul prepared the first churches of Galatia that they would suffer (Acts. 14:22) and warned the Thessalonians in some of his earliest writings (1 Thess. 3:4). But before him, our own Lord spoke openly that His followers would suffer (Mt. 10:22-23; Lk. 21:12; Jn. 15:20). If we actually believe the Scripture, suffering should never come as a surprise. It should be expected.
Expectations of the Opposition (v. 13) – If v. 12 kills the prosperity gospel, then v. 13 kills postmillennialism. The wicked will grow in wickedness and this must not come as any surprise to the believer. In contrast to those who strive to live godly lives in submission to Christ, these little devils and the imposters that come from them will continue from bad to worse. They will continue to deceive the vulnerable as they themselves are deceived by their master and father in whose snare they are captured (2:26). They deceive others as Satan continues to deceive them.
It is foolish to expect that the world will somehow become a better place prior to the return of Jesus. It is foolish because all evidence points to the contrary, but expressly idiotic because Scripture tells us plainly to expect the opposite. They will not win (v. 9), but they will increase in their debauchery and deception. Don’t be surprised at this and let it not shake you from your post, Timothy. You knew this from the beginning.
I am convinced that there is a direct link between the lack of faithfulness today and the implications of this text. Seldom do people hear a full and unaltered gospel that includes necessary suffering. We woo crowds with empty promises of peace, love, and tranquility. Such evangelistic crusades sound more like Woodstock ’69 than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is it any surprise that when people begin to feel the pressure from a world that despises Christ and the cross they fall away? They didn’t sign up for that. Is it any surprise that pastors alter, leave out, and avoid massive parts of Paul’s teaching? People push back against holiness and submission to Christ. They didn’t sign up for suffering and rejection. Is it any surprise that professing Christians conduct their lives in a manner that is indistinguishable from this wicked and perverse generation? They’ve never sat under sound doctrine, but even if they come into contact with it, this doctrine produces strife in their lives and they want no part of it. How shall we respond to this shallow, self-centered, sissified generation masquerading as the church of Jesus Christ?
First, we must understand that faithfulness is not demonstrated by just showing up. Faithfulness is objective. It is defined by a strict adherence to and an ownership of all Scripture and living that truth in our lives. There are no gray areas. We are either in obedience or not.
Second, we must train up the next generation (and retrain the current generation) to expect suffering. We should never worry about the presence of suffering. In fact, we should be greatly concerned if there is a lack of it. Expect suffering. Endure suffering. Because the end of suffering will come, sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64). Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria!