3 Reasons You Should Preach through 2 Timothy
When I preached through 2 Timothy last year, several church members told me they had never heard a single sermon from the book. Perhaps pastors avoid 2 Timothy since it’s one of the “Pastoral Epistles,” and we assume it belongs more in the seminary classroom than in the pulpit. Or perhaps we shy away from it since it focuses so much on suffering—a topic that makes us feel awkward in an age that idolizes comfort.
Whatever reasons we may have for avoiding this book, I want you to consider preaching an expository series through this weighty epistle. Here are three reasons why.
First, The Gospel Must be Preserved to be Proclaimed
One of the primary reasons Paul wrote to Timothy is because the gospel was under attack. False teachers had infiltrated the church and were adding to the gospel (saying more than repentance and faith in Christ were necessary for salvation) or subtracting from the gospel (saying less than repentance and faith in Christ were necessary for salvation). And Paul knew that if the pure gospel was not preserved, there would be no good news left to proclaim.
Of course, the gospel is still under attack today, both outside and inside the church. Most Christians expect the inevitable attacks from the world, but fewer are prepared for the attacks that come from within the church.
Over time, some churches add to the gospel and end up preaching a message of salvation by faith in Christ plus works. Other churches subtract from the it, preaching a message of salvation apart from repentance and faith in Christ.
Second Timothy is relevant today because it reminds us that the gospel must first be preserved in order to be proclaimed. Apart from the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, the church has no message of hope for a lost and dying world.
Second, Many Christians are Not Prepared to Suffer
One prominent theme in 2 Timothy is suffering. Paul reminds Timothy multiple times of his chains and impending death, and calls Timothy to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (1:8), to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2:3), and to “endure suffering” (4:5). He writes, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12).
Clearly, suffering is a major theme of 2 Timothy—just as it is throughout the rest of the New Testament. Jesus, the apostles, and many in the first-century church suffered greatly for preaching the good news. And yet, many Christians today seem unprepared to suffer for Christ.
I have encountered many believers who openly deny the prosperity gospel and yet still seem to believe that as long as they have a regular devotional life, avoid grievous or habitual sin, and participate in the local church then they will avoid suffering.
When suffering inevitably comes in the form of a financial setback, a serious illness, a death in the family, or persecution for their faith, some professing believers begin to question God’s goodness—or even his very existence.
Without minimizing the difficulty of these trials, we must remind the church of what the Bible teaches about suffering. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul wrote, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3–5).
Second Timothy is an important book to preach because it prepares your congregation for the suffering we will inevitably encounter in this life, and to weather it with hope and joy rather than despair.
Third, Pastors—and Aspiring Pastors—Need Instruction and Encouragement
As a church planter myself, I’m encouraged to see the number of young men eager to plant new churches. At the same time, I’m concerned that we may be sending many of them off to plant before they have a firm grasp on what exactly they are planting, and what exactly they will be doing as pastors in a local church. It is one thing to start a church service; it is another thing entirely to plant a healthy local church that, Lord willing, will stand the test of time.
There are few books in Scripture that instruct and encourage both pastors and aspiring pastors as well as 2 Timothy. Paul compares pastoral ministry to the difficult calling of a soldier who is single-minded in his pursuit to please his enlisting officer and win the war; to an athlete who competes according to the rules; and to a hardworking farmer who, after patiently planting, watering, and waiting, can expect to enjoy the first fruits of the harvest.
We often assume that everything the apostle Paul touched turned to gold. But we must remember that Paul experienced many of the same frustrations, disappointments, and setbacks in his ministry that all pastors experience. He and his message were rejected by most of the people who heard him, he was thrown into prison multiple times, some of his closest friends and ministry partners deserted him, and many people who did believe the gospel still struggled to walk in holiness and obedience.
Second Timothy is such a wonderful book for pastors and aspiring pastors because it reminds us that pastoral ministry is a high and wonderful calling that means a life of strenuous labor, persecutions, and setbacks.
And it reminds us that pastoral ministry is absolutely worth it. As Paul closes the body of his letter, he writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7–8).
A Few Commentary Recommendations
I hope you agree that your church (not to mention you as a pastor) would greatly benefit from an expository series through the letter of 2 Timothy.
If you decide to preach 2 Timothy, I highly recommend two resources. First, I recommend Mark Dever’s The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. Mark does a great job of helping his readers understand the historical context of the letter and keep the big picture in mind.
The second resource I recommend is John R. W. Stott’s commentary, The Message of 2 Timothy from the series The Bible Speaks Today. Stott is, without question, my favorite biblical commentator, and his books have added a great deal of insight to my study. He not only excels at explaining the text, but at applying it to his readers. Every faithful preacher should seek to emulate his example.