Facing Perilous Times
2 Timothy 3:10–13
In many of his epistles, the apostle Paul warned churches that in the last days, charlatans will emerge teaching erroneous, deceptive doctrines that cause professing Christians to defect from the faith. Languishing in a Roman prison and knowing he soon would be executed, Paul reminded Timothy of the resources the young man had available to fortify himself against false teachers and apostasy.
Paul’s review for Timothy is a wonderful example of how we should pattern our defenses against false teachers and apostasy today.
Paul told Timothy,
But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me (2 Tim. 3:10–11).
The word but indicates a contrast to what Paul had written about false teachers in verses 1–9. In verses 10–11, he described his own character and conduct. The apostle was not boasting but, rather, reminding Timothy to apply the same devotion and commitment to his own ministry.
Timothy had followed Paul faithfully from the time Paul arrived in Derbe and Lystra (Acts 16:1–5). Timothy knew firsthand Paul’s teaching techniques; doctrine; the methods he used to counter the lies, myths, and godless arguments of false teachers; and the conviction with which he presented scriptural truth. And he imitated everything the great apostle taught him.
Paul had great confidence in Timothy. So much so, that he sent him to Corinth to oversee the problem-ridden church there: “I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17).
Later, Timothy went with Paul to Ephesus. When Paul had to go on to Macedonia, he chose Timothy to pastor the church at Ephesus. Timothy taught the identical, sound doctrine Paul had taught while establishing the church (1 Tim. 1:3–4).
The apostle’s testimony in 2 Timothy 3:10 contains six aspects all believers should imitate:
1. His pattern. His “doctrine” and “manner [conduct] of life” attested to what he preached and practiced. He lived out his beliefs publicly, without pretense, doubt, or hypocrisy.
2. His purpose. After being saved on the Damascus road, Paul was called to preach the gospel and invite people to receive Christ as their Savior. God sent Ananias, a believer from Damascus, to Paul to confirm this calling, telling Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
Paul traveled extensively, taking the gospel from city to city on three missionary journeys covering Damascus, Cilicia, Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, Europe, and Rome. He became a stalwart in the faith, always manifesting God’s will, never wavering in the face of opposition, never compromising his message to please others, and always determined to do God’s “good and acceptable and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). Sometimes Timothy traveled with him and saw firsthand Paul’s efforts to win people to Christ and establish churches.
3. His principle of faith. Some commentators believe the word faith in 2 Timothy 3:10 means “faithfulness.” Paul was talking about his personal faith, or trust, in God while enduring severe tribulation. He never wavered in his belief that Jesus was his Savior and Lord, even if it meant his death. Paul was reminding Timothy he, too, would face persecution in serving the Lord and that he should remain faithful.
4. His patience. This aspect is expressed in the word longsuffering. Paul showed unusual forbearance and fortitude toward sinful humankind, though under severe persecution. Dr. John MacArthur summed up Paul’s fortitude this way:
Paul is speaking of the resolute and persistent spirit of the servant of Christ who never gives up and never gives in, regardless of the cost. Such patience is more than an attitude; it is a determined way of life and is a certain mark of the Christian who lives in uncompromising devotion to his Lord and the work of the kingdom.1
5. His passion. This aspect is expressed by the word love, which is the Greek word agape—the same type of love God showers on us. This love is rooted in the self-sacrificing nature of God Himself. Paul realized that, when he was dead in sin and heading up the Damascus road to persecute Christians, he received such love from God; and his life was changed (Acts 9:1–2; 22:4). Now he poured out that love on all people—saved and unsaved, friends and persecutors.
6. His perseverance. Paul wrote 2 Timothy while sitting in a dank, dark dungeon, knowing he would soon die. He had few of the comforts of life and few resources, and he lived at the mercy of Rome and his jailers. But he persevered, enduring under the most adverse circumstances. And he evidenced neither self-pity nor discouragement. He surrendered completely to whatever the Lord’s will was for his life (Phil. 4:11).
In 2 Timothy 3:11, Paul reminded Timothy of the “persecutions [and] afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured.”
These were the persecutions Paul suffered on his first missionary journey. In Antioch, after he spoke on the Sabbath, the Gentiles who heard him asked if he would speak the following Sabbath as well. When he did, almost the entire city turned out to hear him. Many Gentiles received Jesus as Savior, and God’s Word spread.
However, the Jewish people became angry and stirred up others to persecute Paul and Barnabas and expel them from the region. The two shook the dust off their feet and went to Iconium. This was the first mentioned persecution of the early church. Yet the men were not discouraged but, rather, were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:48–52).
In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went to a synagogue and spoke. God’s Word, accompanied by signs and miracles, moved a great multitude of both Jews and Gentiles (Greeks) to receive Jesus as Savior. But the unbelieving people within the city stirred up violence against Paul and Barnabas, and the two fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia (14:1–6).
In Lystra, a man crippled from birth heard Paul. Seeing the man had faith, Paul commanded him, “Stand up straight on your feet!” (v. 10). The man leaped and walked.
Immediately, everyone assumed the apostles were pagan gods and prepared to worship them. Paul tried to dissuade them by preaching about the true God. Then Jewish people from Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra and persuaded others to stone Paul. After stoning him, they dragged him out of the city, believing he was dead. But the disciples gathered around him, and he revived the next day. Then he and Barnabas went to Derbe (vv. 6–20). Timothy would have known of all these persecutions, especially the one in Lystra, his hometown.
Despite such suffering, Paul summed up his tribulations with a triumphant comment: “And out of them all the Lord delivered me” (2 Tim. 3:11). Though Paul bore the scars of the brutal beatings, he emerged victorious. He never emphasized his anguish or accomplishments but, rather, what the Lord did for and through him. His attitude is a great reminder that all ministry we accomplish in life should give glory and credit to Christ.
Everyone who faithfully serves the Lord can expect adversity: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul, “will suffer persecution” (v. 12). The history of Christianity for 2,000 years has proven Paul’s statement true. In fact, Jesus warned His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:18, 20).
Persecution takes on many faces. Some people endure social rejection because of their Christian beliefs. Others are denied promotions at work because of their stands as believers. Still others pay with their lives as martyrs for faith in Jesus Christ.
“Evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse,” Paul told Timothy, “deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). He described these evil people specifically in verses 2–9, explaining that, as they deceive others, they themselves are being deceived, having lost the ability to discern truth from falsehood.
What Paul shared with Timothy is critical for us today, as we are living in perilous times.
- John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Timothy (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1995), 130.