Paul’s letters to Timothy demonstrate the height of passion and purpose in Christian discipleship. Unfortunately we often pit things like love and truth, people and project, form and function, mercy and discipline, or worship and work against each other in our thoughts. This is unfortunate because God has designed beauty and strength to be both intimate and hard-working companions. Paul demonstrates both these ideals in his relationship to his young protege, Timothy.
Paul reveals the passionate heart cry of a father to a son saying, "To Timothy my true son in the faith," "Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young," "To Timothy, my dear son," "Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy," "I have been reminded of your sincere faith," "You, then, my son, be strong," "Do you best to come to me quickly," and "The Lord be with your spirit."
Yet Paul also reveals the purposeful gravity of a military commander to a soldier saying, "Command certain men not to teach false doctrines," "I urge, then, first of all," "Have nothing to do with godless myths," "Command and teach these things," "Be diligent," "I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels," "But you, man of God, flee from all this," "Warn them before God," "Flee the evil desires of youth," "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days," and "I give you this charge: Preach the word."
The work of Christ left an indelible stamp of grace of truth on the heart of Paul and now Paul seeks to pass the baton of the passions and purposes of Christ to Timothy. This was no hasty or last minute effort by Paul to make disciples as Christ commanded. Paul invested decades of prayer and effort into loving and training Timothy to continue the work of the gospel. The letters of I and II Timothy are the inspired message that Paul left to counsel, encourage, and exhort Timothy, his spiritual son, after his departure from this world. Much can be learned from them.
The letters are also chock full of wisdom and counsel. On one plain of dissection Paul counsels on how a godly man should relate to false teachers, rebels, kings and leaders, men, women, elders, deacons, deserters, older men, younger men, older women, younger women, older widows, younger widows, slaves, masters, the rich, reliable men, and terrible people of the last days. On another plain of dissection Paul teaches on themes such as love, a pure heart, a good conscience, sincere faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ, fighting the good fight, prayer, modesty, godliness, doctrines of demons, godly speech, reading Scripture, laying on hands, honoring leaders, contentment, power, self-discipline, guarding the gospel, enduring hardship as a soldier, competing fairly as an athlete, working hard as a farmer, avoiding arguments, imitating Paul’s example, and preaching the Word. Every Christian leader who desires to be effective must study and come into conformity with these letters whether the pastor of a huge congregation or the parent of one child.
Since this article will only take a brief look at the books of I and II Timothy we will focus the balance of our time highlighting the thesis statements observed in these books. For those that have followed my writings you are already aware that I have taken a fancy to locating introductory thesis statements in books of the Bible. My high school English teacher Mrs. M. taught us that good prose literary compositions contain an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement followed by supporting paragraphs and then a conclusion. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Holy Spirit had taken Mrs. M’s class as well (or was that vice a versa). I explain the value of these observations at length in my article, A Look at the Book of Ephesians. Briefly stated, however, observation of the main points in the thesis statements in I and II Timothy will help us major on the main points and minor on the minor points as we study these books.
Not every book of Scripture has a classic thesis statement that introduces the main points of the book. The book of Titus, for example, does not appear to have one, but I and II Timothy each appear to have two, just like the book of Ephesians. Thesis statements can be recognized as a sentence or sentences in the introduction or transitions of the book that list important themes. I Timothy 1:5 (WEB) is just such a verse, “but the goal of this command is love, out of a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” Here Paul highlights the goal of love, which grows out of three factors. Our study will consider if these three factors are in fact major themes expanded upon in the verses that follow. Another likely verse is I Timothy 1:18-19, “I commit this instruction to you, my child Timothy, according to the prophecies which were given to you before, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience... .” Again we see Paul listing major themes, perhaps an outline for the remainder of his book. To see if this is truly the case we will now examine the verses following these thesis statements, looking for repetition of the key words highlighted in the thesis statements or continuation of the same thoughts.
The first thesis of I Timothy highlights the themes of a pure heart, a good conscience, and unfeigned faith. In this case I do not observe a repetition of these exact words in the following verses, excepting “faith” in 1:12, but there certainly is a continuation of all three themes. One possible outline could be as follows:
Thesis on a pure heart, a good conscience, and unfeigned faith, I Timothy 1:5
1. The law is for impure hearts, I Timothy 1:7:11
2. God considered Paul faithful, I Timothy 1:12-14
3. God cleansed Paul’s conscience, I Timothy 1:15-17
The second thesis of I Timothy highlights the themes of the good warfare, holding faith, and holding a good conscience. These words and themes are specifically repeated in following verses. The conscience is again mentioned in verse 3:9 and others, holding faith in verse 4:1 and others, and the good warfare in 6:12. In light of these and other observations one possible outline could be:
Thesis on waging the good warfare, holding onto faith, and a good conscience, I Timothy 1:18-19
1. Hold onto a good conscience, I Timothy 2:1-3:16
2. Hold onto faith, I Timothy 4:1-6:10
3. Wage the good warfare, 6:11-21
Before considering a literary dissection of II Timothy, do not miss the crucial message of this book. Paul concludes saying, “For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness is stored up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day; and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved his appearing” (II Timothy 4:6-8 WEB). Church tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome for his faith in Christ. This letter is his Magnum Opus to Timothy. Our hearts beat the fastest as we watch one Olympic runner end his sprint and hand the baton to the next runner. Will the baton be dropped? II Timothy is the Holy Spirit’s perfect baton pass to any that would be a disciple or make disciples.
Just as in the book of I Timothy I also observe two thesis statements in the book of II Timothy. The first is II Timothy 1:7 (WEB), “For God didn't give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” Paul highlights three components of the spirit that God has given us. These are likely themes for the verses following. The second thesis statement I observe is II Timothy 2:1-7, “1) You therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2) The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit the same things to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. 3) You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4) No soldier on duty entangles himself in the affairs of life, that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier. 5) Also, if anyone competes in athletics, he isn't crowned unless he has competed by the rules. 6) The farmer who labors must be the first to get a share of the crops. 7) Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.” Paul tells Timothy to entrust the gospel to reliable men citing the enduring soldier, rule abiding athlete, and hardworking farmer as examples. These three examples seem to be likely themes for expansion in the remainder of the book.
The first thesis of II Timothy highlights the themes of power, love, and self-control. If this is a thesis statement we would expect these words or themes to be expanded upon in the verses that follow, and this is just the case. “Power” is mentioned in 1:8, “love” in 1:13, and the theme of no "self-control" in 1:15. In light of these and other observations one possible outline could be as follows:
Thesis on power, love, and self-control, II Timothy 1:7
1. Suffer for the gospel by the power of God, II Timothy 1:8-12
2. Keep my teaching with faith and love, II Timothy 1:13-14
3. Many have lost self-control and deserted me, but not all, II Timothy 1:15-18
The second thesis of II Timothy highlights the themes of enduring hardship like a good soldier, competing according to the rules like an athlete, and working hard like a farmer. These themes, likewise, finish the book. In light of these and other observations one outline could be as follows:
Thesis on the enduring soldier, rule abiding athlete, and hard working farmer, II Timothy 2:1-7
1. Avoid the godless chatter of civilians, II Timothy 2:14-26
2. Compete by the rules of Paul teaching, II Timothy 3:1-17
3. Work hard in season and out of season, II Timothy 4:1-8
If these observations are correct a summary of I and II Timothy can easily be constructed which majors on the majors. The thesis statements of I Timothy 1:5, I Timothy 1:18-19, II Timothy 1:7, and II Timothy 2:1-7 highlight a total of 12 major themes. Consider this summary:
Paul wrote Timothy
1. First exhorting him to
a. Aim for love through a
1. Pure heart,
2. Good conscience, and
3. Unfeigned faith
b. Receive instruction so that he might
1. Fight the good fight,
2. Hold onto faith, and
3. Hold onto a good conscience
2. Second exhorting him to
a. Fan the flame of God’s gift to him through God’s spirit of
2. Love, and
b. Entrust Paul’s teaching to reliable men remembering to
1. Endure hardship like a soldier,
2. Compete according to the rules like an athlete, and
3. Work hard like a farmer
It is on this framework that Paul instructs Timothy with details like: urge men to lift up holy hands in prayer, teach women to dress modestly, do not be ashamed of the gospel, and preach the Word. Lord willing, this outline will help you and I master the wisdom and counsel found in the books of I and II Timothy. The goal of course being that we each would receive the baton of grace and truth successfully as reliable men and also pass on the baton of grace and truth successfully to reliable men.
Has your rebel heart bowed to salvation by grace received by faith? Does your rebel heart love the truth of Scripture? Are you investing your life to train reliable men who will faithfully carry the message of grace and truth after you leave this world? Men, the terrible times in the last days began in Paul’s day and continue through today. And when Lord’s winnowing fork separates the wheat from the chaff will you be found to be a son in His kingdom and a soldier in his army fighting against the present tide of evil?
Lord God, help us to be the faithful men needed in this hour.