Paul's Letters To Timothy
by Greg Williamson (c) 2014, 2019
Featuring the text of the New American Standard Bible *
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Intro | 1 Timothy 1:1-11 / 1:12-17 / 1:18-20 | 2:1-8 / 2:9-15 | 3:1-7 / 3:8-13 / 3:14-16 | 4:1-6 / 4:7-12 / 4:13-16 | 5:1-16 / 5:17-25 | 6:1-2 / 6:3-10 / 6:11-21 | 2 Timothy 1:1-7 / 1:8-12 / 1:13-18 | 2:1-7 / 2:8-13 / 2:14-18 / 2:19-26 | 3:1-9 / 3:10-12 / 3:13-17 | 4:1-4 / 4:5-8 / 4:9-22 ** | Articles & Definitions | Sources

(2 Timothy 2:19-22, 23-26)

19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness."
20 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.
21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.
24 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged,
25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

God’s grace strengthens us and enables us to be faithful ... vessels, and servants. God’s grace enables us to overcome ... the flesh and the devil. God’s grace ... helps us ... deal with problem people of whom we are not afraid. - Warren Wiersbe [ref]

QuoteWorthy: Trouble Makers
If you want to find yourself swallowed up by despair or confusion, hang around those who cause problems. I have yet to see a man or a woman prosper who causes division and problems in a church. - Jon Courson [ref]

2 TIMOTHY 2:19 - Permanent Foundation; God's Seal of Ownership (v. 19)

Countering False Doctrine

Spiritual leaders must counteract the lingering influence of false teachers. (see 2 Timothy 2:14-19) [ref]

"The very presence of heresy and heretics in the church apparently had planted in the minds of believers the question about the stability and permanence of the church. In the two images that follow (the church as foundation [2 Timothy 2:19a]; the church as a great household [2 Timothy 2:20]) Paul addresses the implied question by challenging the present turbulent reality with affirmations of God’s control and giving directions for the appropriate Christian response." [ref] For his part, "Timothy did not need to fear for the destiny of God’s work, but he was to make every effort to keep himself free from the contamination of the false teachers." [ref] [ref]

Nevertheless (2 Timothy 2:19)
That is:

  • "despite the subversion of some who are weak in the faith" [ref]
  • "In spite of all the failures of men" [ref]
  • "In spite of the unfaithful actions of some" [ref]

the firm foundation of God stands (2 Timothy 2:19)
Although the false teachers had managed to turn some away from the truth, the foundation of the Church, laid by God himself, remains firm. [ref

This foundation has been interpreted as being:

  • "election from eternity" [ref]
  • "the fundamental doctrine of the Resurrection" [ref]
  • "Christ" [ref] [ref]
  • "Christ Jesus and his Apostles" [ref]
  • "the Christian religion" [ref] [ref]
  • "the congregation of the faithful, considered as a foundation of a building placed by God" [ref]
  • "the Church, which remains firm (cp. 1Timothy 3:15) despite the aberrations of individual members" [ref] [ref] [ref] [ref]
  • "'the truth,' 'the deposit'" [ref]
  • "the whole truth of God, including his saving work" [ref]
  • "the immoveable faithfulness of God" [ref] "This contrasts well with the erring from the faith on the part of the reprobate, 2 Timothy 2:18. Though they deny the faith, God abates not His faithfulness (compare 2 Timothy 2:13)." [ref]

All things considered, the Christian Church seems to be the best option. [ref] (And of course all of the possible interpretations relate either directly or indirectly to the Church.) Regarding the Church as being the foundation:

By “the sure foundation of God” is meant the church, which is “the pillar and stay of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), by means of which the truth of God is to withstand the assaults of error. The church has its being in the contents of “the sound teaching” (1 Timothy 1:10), which is “according to godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3), and which is deposited in it. “The mystery of godliness “ is intrusted to it (1 Timothy 3:16). Its servants possess “the mystery of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:9). In 1 Corinthians 3:11, Christ is represented as “the chief corner-stone.” In Ephesians 2:20, the church is built “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” with Christ as the corner-stone, and grows into a “holy temple in the Lord.” Here, the church itself is the foundation, and the building is conceived as a great dwelling-house. [ref]



The Hebrew verb yâsad means “to lay a foundation,” “to establish,” or “to found.” But its underlying meaning is “to fix firmly.” Yâsad indicates an immovable base on which a solid structure can be erected.

In the OT, most uses of this family of words are metaphorical. A literal foundation is, among other things, spoken of in reference to Solomon’s palace (1 Ki 7:10), the temple in Jerusalem (1 Ki 5:17; 2 Ch 3:3; Ezr 3:10, 11, 12; Isa 44:28; Hag 2:18; Zec 4:9; 8:9), the city of Jericho (Jos 6:26; 1 Ki 16:34), the nation of Egypt (Ex 9:18), and the earth (Job 38:4; Ps 104:5; Pr 3:19; 8:29; Isa 24:18; 48:13; 51:13, 16; Zec 12:1). To affirm that in the beginning God “laid the foundations of the earth” (Ps 102:25) is to say that God established the universe and the unchangeable laws by which it operates.

Two Greek words are translated “foundation”: katabolē and themelios. The emphasis of the Greek words is less on the immovability of what has been established than it is on the act of founding. What is important in the NT is the point of beginning. Paul’s role as an expert builder, laying the foundation of the church at Corinth, is as the evangelist who first brought the gospel (1 Co 3:10–12). The Ephesian reference to the church as “built on the foundation of the apostles” (Eph 2:20) in no way suggests that the apostles have replaced Jesus as the unshakable base of our faith (1 Co 3:11). Rather, Paul reminds us believers that the church had its origin in the ministry that the apostles had after Jesus’ resurrection.

- Lawrence O. Richards [ref]

The image of a house and house-building (oikos, oikodomē) is occasionally used in the NT as a picture of how a man governs and orders his life, as he founds and builds it (Matt. 7:24 f.). If he has the words of Jesus as the foundation, he is securely based. This also applies particularly to the Christian community, the church. It is a "spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Tim. 3:15) which Jesus himself plans to build (cf. Matt. 16:18) by his Spirit and his word. Just as the foundation is of decisive importance in building a house, so it is with the church. This foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). "Everything that has to be regarded as the reality and truth of justification and faith and their mutual relationship begins in Him and derives from Him" (K. Barth, CD IV 1, 637). On this foundation Paul has set the church [1 Cor. 3:10], and on this foundation the further building must proceed [1 Cor. 3:12 ff.]. But whatever is built, Christ must remain the basis (cf. [1 Cor. 3:15]). Insofar as this foundation only comes to men through the proclamation of the apostles and prophets, they can themselves be described as themelios, "Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20). In the same way in Matt. 16:18 Peter is called the rock on which the church will be built. The church thus lives from that which God has done in Jesus and caused to be proclaimed by the apostles. She is no longer the church, if she allows other things beside to be regarded as fundamental such as blood or race.

Where the church rests on such a foundation, she can herself conversely be described as the foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15; hedraiōma). For it is she who protects and preserves the truth in her confession [1 Tim. 3:16] in the fight against enemies within and without. Similarly in 2 Tim. 2:19 the foundation is formed not only by God's act in Christ, but arising out of this, the fact that the church puts away from herself all unrighteousness (cf. [2 Tim. 2:20 f.]).

As is evident from the simile of building a house, Paul makes a fundamental distinction between two separate tasks of the preacher. The first is to lay the foundation (missionary proclamation, evangelism); the second is to build up the church (1 Cor. 3:10). He believes himself above all called only to the first of these tasks (Rom. 15:20; cf. 2 Cor. 10:16), and is not prepared merely to build further where someone else has already laid the foundation.

In addition to these ecclesiological uses, themelios can also be applied, like hedraios, to the individual Christian. The steadfastness to which he is called (1 Cor. 15:58) depends entirely upon his relationship to his Lord which is grounded in faith (Col. 1:23) and love (Eph. 3:17). There may, however, be an allusion here too to the church, for in both contexts it is mentioned, as the body of Christ or by the expression "in Christ" (Col. 1:18; Eph. 3:21).

A completely different use is found in Heb. 6:1, where themelios means the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. The distinction made here is between the groundwork, which every Christian has to know, and further insights which come to those who are prepared to study the scriptures in greater depth. themelios is thus used here rather to distinguish between the relative importance of various items of Christian teaching, than to refer as in Paul to the relationship of a person to Christ.

- J. Blunck [ref] (condensed/extracted from longer article)

this seal (2 Timothy 2:19)
"There are two inscriptions on the foundation stone, the one guaranteeing the security, the other the purity, of the church. The two go together. The purity of the church is indispensable to its security." [ref]

The "seal" could refer to either "the stonemason’s mark, denoting workmanship, or the owner’s mark, denoting 'ownership, security, and destination.'" [ref]

This is "probably in allusion to the practice of engraving inscriptions over doors (Deuteronomy 6:9; 11:20) and on pillars and foundation stones (Revelations 21:14). The seal (inscription) would indicate ownership and destination." [ref] Genuine believers "are marked by God so as to be recognised by Him as His; and this mark also serves as a perpetual reminder to them that 'they are not their own,' and of their consequent obligation to holiness of life (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)." [ref]

Here "Paul extends the architectural imagery by inviting the audience to imagine a 'seal' that authenticates the 'foundation.' Seals (sphragis) were used commonly to identify legal ownership of property and, like signatures in modern practice, to guarantee authenticity, genuineness, and integrity, or to preserve the secrecy of the contents of a letter or of some product. In this case, 'seal' is used in a figurative sense to denote God’s ownership of 'the foundation' (= the church) just mentioned." [ref]

In keeping with the foundation being the Church, one commentator notes how all three persons of the Godhead are involved in the sealing of believers:

The seal by which believers are sealed protects, indicates ownership, and certifies, all three in one! Cf. Revelations 7:2-4. God the Father protects them, so that none are lost. He has known them as his own from all eternity (the context calls for this idea). God the Son owns them. They were given to him. Moreover, he bought or redeemed them with his precious blood. This idea of ownership is clearly expressed here (“the Lord knows those who are his”). And God the Holy Spirit certifies that they are, indeed, the sons of God (Romans 8:16). This divine protection, ownership, and certification seals them! But how do believers experience the comfort of the seal? The answer is: by taking to heart what is written on the seal! The seal bears two closely related inscriptions. God's decree and man's responsibility receive equal recognition. [ref]



The OT has châtham (“to seal”) and chôtham (“signet” or “seal”). Important documents and, figuratively, revelation (Isa 8:16; Da 12:9) were stamped with a seal. The impression of the engraved ring or tool was a mark of authenticity. The seal also showed ownership and suggests security.

In the NT, “to seal” is sphragizō. In Greek culture, the seal had great legal significance. When stamped on possessions, the seal indicated ownership and guarded the possession against theft. On a document the seal authenticated the message and conveyed the authority of the one who stamped it. The seal could serve as a signature, recognized by all. A sealed document was allowed to be opened only by the addressee. For those in power, such as kings or governors, the seal served as the symbol of authority.

In the NT, the various implications of sealing are used to express spiritual truths. Jn 6:27 uses “seal” in the authenticating sense. Jesus speaks with God’s own voice and authority. In a sense, Paul wrote, the believing community in Corinth was a seal that authenticated his apostolic legitimacy (1 Co 9:2).

In Ro 4:11, circumcision is called a sign and a seal. Paul’s thought is that circumcision was an identifying mark, stamping as God’s own people those made righteous by faith. It was never, as Israel thought, a sign that one lives under law.

In 2 Ti 2:19, Paul wrote that “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: 'The Lord knows those who are his,' and 'Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.'” Paul’s point is that the mark of God’s ownership has both invisible and visible aspects. The invisible is the hidden knowledge of God. The visible is the character of those who belong to the Lord. They turn from wickedness and live by God’s will.

Three times the Holy Spirit is spoken of as a seal. In Eph 1:13 and Eph 4:30 the image is commercial. The shipment has been accepted, payment has been made, and the owner’s seal stamped on the product to secure it. The presence of the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will accept believers, for whom he has paid the price in Christ. The same thought, the seal of ownership, is found in 2 Co 1:22. God the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that we will be taken into our Father’s house, forever his.

The protective aspect of the seal is emphasized in Rev 7, while identification is in view in Rev 22. In other Revelation passages the seal is used to close and keep hidden that which is within.

- Lawrence O. Richards [ref]

The book of Job suggests the diversity of meanings for the image of seals. God’s seal on the stars symbolizes his authority (Job 9:7); God seals his instruction to preserve it (Job 33:16). Two unusual figures compare God’s control in changing things to clay under a seal (Job 38:14), and Leviathan’s strong scales form a tight seal shutting him up (Job 41:15). The latter image of securing a place occurs also in the stories of Daniel sealed in the lions’ den and Jesus sealed in the tomb (Dan 6:17; Mt 27:66) -- so they cannot be removed! Satan is sealed so he no longer deceives anyone (Rev 20:3).

Seals on letters symbolize the authenticity of authority (1 Kings 21:8; Esther 3:12; 8:8–10); thus metaphorically the image connotes authenticity. Abraham’s circumcision is the seal of his righteousness (Rom 4:11); a witness sets his seal on the truth of God, and the Father on the Son (Jn 3:33; 6:27). People become seals, proving the worth of Paul’s apostleship (1 Cor 9:2), and he carries the Macedonians’ contribution to Jerusalem as an authenticating seal (Rom 15:28). Jeremiah acts out this symbolism by purchasing land and sealing the deed to prove God’s future restoration of Israel (Jer 32:6–44).

Seal is also an image of authority itself. A king’s signet seal on a document gives it the authority of the king himself; anyone illegally opening a letter sealed by the king is defying his authority. Sometimes the authority represented by a seal is given a spiritual meaning: Paul declares that God’s foundation for believers is a double seal -- the Lord knows those who are his, and he commands them to abstain from wickedness (2 Tim 2:19).

Because Near Eastern peoples wore engraved signet rings on their fingers (Gen 41:42; Jer 22:24) or cylinder seals on neck cords (Gen 38:18; Prov 3:3) to indicate identity or ownership (like a coat of arms or heraldic crest), the beloved in the Song of Songs asks her lover to place her as a seal on his arm (finger) and heart (Song 8:6). The woman’s request for permanence in love thus implies both proximity (like the seal that is always present) and the action of being claimed (as her lover stamps his beloved like an official signature on his heart).

Sealing is sometimes an image that deepens mystery. Daniel is instructed to conceal God’s words by sealing the book (Dan 12:4) till the end of time (Dan 12:9); Isaiah and John are similarly instructed (Is 29:14; Rev 10:4). Later in Revelation, however, the message is no longer sealed (Rev 20:10) -- thus imaging the future understanding of believers. The image of the sealed book in Revelation underscores the worthiness of the Lamb (Rev 5:1–2, 5, 8). When its seven seals are opened, the ensuing events reveal God’s control over all nature and history (Rev 6:1–12; 8:1).

Preservation is a frequent meaning for the image of sealing (Song 4:12). Obedience to the law is preserved by the sealed covenant in Nehemiah (Neh 9:38–10:1), and Isaiah commands God’s law to be sealed among his disciples (Is 8:16). In God’s treasuries God seals his promise to vindicate his people (Deut 32:33), but Job complains that God also sealed up his transgressions and glued together his iniquity (Job 14:17).

The image of God’s sealing his people combines all these meanings -- authenticity, ownership, mystery, worthiness, preservation (2 Cor 1:22). God’s people marked by a seal are protected (Rev 7:2–8; 9:4). The Holy Spirit’s coming as promised is a seal and down payment, proof that God’s people are sealed for the day of redemption (Eph 1:13–14; 4:30).

- Dictionary of Biblical Imagery [ref]

The Lord knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19)
This refers to "an intimate, experiential knowledge that can only be obtained in a relationship." [ref]

Here "Paul’s point is that the mark of God’s ownership has both invisible and visible aspects. The invisible is the hidden knowledge of God ['The Lord knows those who are His']. The visible is the character of those who belong to the Lord. They turn from wickedness and live by God’s will ['Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness']." [ref]

This appears to be "a quotation from Numbers 16:5, words addressed by Moses in stern reproof to the rebellious Korah and his company." [ref] As one commentator explains in some detail:

The OT context and the present context must be compared in order for us to appreciate the full weight of the citation’s claim that God knows his own people. In both cases authority is disputed, and loyalty to God and his appointed servants is in question. The setting in Num. 16 is one of dispute and confrontation: Moses and Aaron, leaders chosen by God, had been challenged by Korah and his companions (Levites to whom the privilege of the priesthood had not been given), who demanded the right to serve God as priests in the community. In response, Moses declared that God knows those who truly belong to him, meaning the people whom God had chosen, and that he would make it known. Korah presented a challenge to Moses’ and Aaron’s authority, and in so doing, he rebelled against God; God confirmed his choice of Moses and Aaron by the destruction of Korah and all who sided with him.

The reader who is familiar with the OT background is compelled to view the present situation in a similar light: characters such as Hymenaeus and Philetus, with their false teaching, present the apostolic ministry with a leadership challenge. So, the points of contact are apparent. But how much of the paradigm is to be brought across to the situation in Ephesus? The result of the OT story was the dramatic destruction of the unrecognized rebels; it is not hard to see how the story accessed by the citation might function as a warning in the way that the wilderness allusions in 1 Cor. 10 did for the Corinthian community. The statement of Moses quoted here was a statement of vindication, and it pointed forward to judgment. Because God distinguishes, one must ensure one’s proper alignment with him. The OT story serves as a paradigm that acknowledges the rebellion of some within the church and God’s continued presence within it; however, the statement is both a consolation and a warning that God will distinguish between those who are his and those who are not. God is present as protector and redeemer, but also as judge who will vindicate his truth and his people.

The parallels are obvious: challengers to God’s representatives (Moses/Paul) have been named, and the people must choose sides, thereby establishing their identity. [ref]

What's more, the fact that God knows his own shows "that no one can deceive God; that he is intimately acquainted with all who enter that building; and that in the multitudes which enter there, the friends and the foes of God are intimately known. He can separate his own friends from all others, and his constant care will be extended to all who are truly his own, to keep them from falling."  [ref

Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness (2 Timothy 2:19)
Rather than a direct quote, this appears to be a sort of summary statement drawn from several OT passages such as Numbers 16:26; Psalms 33:15; Proverbs 3:7; Isaiah 24:16; 26:13; 52:11. [ref] [ref] Also see Jesus' teaching/preaching in Matthew 7:23; Luke 13:27. [ref]

"Names the name of the Lord" is an idiom meaning "to employ the name of the Lord as evidence that one worships the Lord -- ‘to say that one belongs to the Lord’ or ‘to declare that one is a worshiper of the Lord.’" [ref] It is a way of "acknowledging and appropriating what the name involves, as a confession of faith and allegiance." [ref]

"Whatever may be implied in God's election, it does not relieve Christians of the duty of strict attention to their moral character and conduct. The gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8) is exhibited in making one a coworker with God (1 Corinthians 3:9). The salvation bestowed by grace is to be 'carried out' (Philippians 2:12) by man with the aid of grace (Romans 6:8-19; 2 Corinthians 6:1). What this includes and requires appears in Philippians 3:10; 4:1-7; Ephesians 4:13-16, 22 ff.; Colossians 2:6, 7." [ref]

Those who avoid evil are the Lord's true followers, their lives giving evidence that they have not fallen prey to false teaching. [ref

CONTRACT/COVENANT. A very interesting alternate interpretation sees "foundation" (Greek themelios) as depicting "a contract or covenant by which two parties are bound to fulfill certain conditions and duties, the obligation to which, each takes on him by sealing the instrument with his seal. ... The twofold inscription, i.e. one on the seal of each party, may be here alluded to." [ref] In which case the writing on the seal represents the Lord's promise to care for and protect his followers, and his followers' promise to follow him faithfully, including abstaining from all that is contrary to his will. Even if this is not Paul's intended meaning, it certainly is a valid application.


2 TIMOTHY 2:20 - Parodoxical Church (vv. 20-21)

While differences of opinion exist, it seems best to understand 2 Timothy 2:20-21 as being Paul's explanation for, and warning against, both the false teachers and the false Christians who follow them.


To what is the apostle alluding by this metaphor? There can be little doubt that the ‘great house’ is God’s house, the visible or professing church. But what are the ‘vessels’? The use of the term elsewhere in the New Testament suggests that they stand not simply for members of the church, but for the church’s teachers. For example, Jesus had said to Ananias about the newly converted Saul of Tarsus: ‘he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel’ (Acts 9:15). Years later Paul described himself and his fellow-workers by a similar image when he wrote: ‘we have this treasure in earthen vessels’ (2 Cor. 4:7). In these verses ‘instrument’ and ‘vessel’ translate the same Greek word (skeuos) as Paul is now using in his letter to Timothy. A skeuos was any kind of utensil. It is true that when he called himself an earthen vessel he was applying the metaphor differently, for he was there emphasizing his physical infirmity, and not implying that he was fit only for ignoble use. Nevertheless, the theme of service is prominent in each verse. As a ‘vessel’ Paul’s function was to carry Christ’s name before unbelievers, and in the earthenware vessel he carried the treasure of the gospel, as a fragile pottery lamp carries the light.

From this usage I think we would be justified in concluding that the two sets of vessels in the great house (gold and silver for noble use, wood and earthenware for ignoble) represent not genuine and spurious members of the church but true and false teachers in the church. Paul is still, in fact, referring to the two sets of teachers he has contrasted in the previous paragraph, the authentic like Timothy and the bogus like Hymenaeus and Alexander. The only difference is that he changes the metaphor from good and bad workmen to noble and ignoble vessels. [ref] (also see: [ref] [ref])

Now in a large house there are ... gold and silver vessels ... vessels of wood and of earthenware (2 Timothy 2:20)
The "large house" is the Christian Church [ref] or, more broadly, "the Kingdom of God." [ref]

"The Gr. word [for vessels] is very general and was used to describe various tools, utensils, and furniture found in the home. In this 'great house' analogy, Paul contrasts two kinds of utensils or serving dishes. In a wealthy home, the ones made of precious 'gold and silver' were used for honorable purposes such as serving food to the family and guests. Those made of 'wood and clay' were not for any honorable use, but rather those uses which were repulsive -- disposing of garbage and the filthy waste of the household." [ref] What's more, "the cheapest vessels were expendable and in Jewish circles would be shattered if rendered impure." [ref]

"In a great house there are vessels of every kind. The lesson is the same as that in the Parable of the Draw Net (Matthew 13:47 ff.)." [ref] "Until the drag-net is full, and drawn up on the beach, the bad fish in it cannot be cast away." [ref] A similar point was made by Jesus in his "teaching about the wheat and the tares (Mt 13:24-30)." [ref]

"[T]he presence of false believers within the church is the issue. God knows who they are, but the point is, they are there, and this fact should not take Christians by surprise. Neither should it cause despair, because the church will not fall." [ref] "[I]t is noteworthy that this is the only place where St Paul directly expresses the thought of the Church embracing evil members as well as good." [ref]

Paul's illustraton may be a bit confusing for modern readers, since most homes today contain wooden utensils and ceramic cups and bowls that are used daily and certainly far more often than the precious silver. [ref] As one commentator explains well:

The gold and the silver utensils are the true members of the church visible, and their being “for honor” means that they will always be prized and kept and never thrown away. Yet some are of gold and most precious, the faith, love, work of such members are of the highest value; some are of silver, members that are less precious.

The utensils of wood and of earthenware are persons who are only outwardly members of the visible church; they are “for dishonor,” which does not mean for dirty use but unprized, eventually discarded and thrown on the junk heap. Nobody throws utensils that are made of gold and of silver out with the junk.

“For honor” and “for dishonor” do not refer to the use that is made of these utensils, some being intended for noble, some for ignoble use. Nothing is said about their use, for this is not the point; the one and only point is preciousness, some utensils being so precious as never to be thrown away, some so cheap as to be readily thrown away. [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:21 - Parodoxical Church (vv. 20-21)

if anyone cleanses himself from these (things) (2 Timothy 2:21)

"One could interpret 'purifies himself from these things' (NASB) in two ways. On the one hand, Paul may distinguish here the righteous from the wicked (as in Rom 9:22–23); but the righteous, like vessels reserved for honor, had to be separated from the vessels for dishonor in the same house. On the other hand, one normally purified important vessels from dirt or, in the religious sense, from defilement (such as the heretics’ talk -- [2 Timothy 2:16]). (Paul may intend both senses; under some conditions of Jewish law, a pure vessel brought into contact with something impure, including an impure vessel, had to be purified again.)" [ref]

If anyone
Meaning: "Whoever wants to be useful to the Lord for noble purposes. Even a common wood bucket or clay pot becomes useful when purged and made holy." [ref]

"The Gr. word [ekkathairō] means 'to thoroughly clean out,' or 'to completely purge.' For any wastebucket in the house to be used for a noble purpose, it would have had to be vigorously scoured, cleansed, and purged of all vestiges of its former filth." [ref]

from these (things)
This refers to the vessels of dishonor [ref], meaning "the errors and deeds of the false teachers described in 2 Timothy 2:14-19." [ref] "Associating with anyone who teaches error and lives in sin is corrupting (Prov. 1:10–19; 13:20; 1 Cor. 5:6, 11; 15:33; Titus 1:16) -- all the more so when they are leaders in the church. This is clearly a call to separate from all who claim to serve God, but do so as filthy implements useful only for the most dishonorable duties." [ref]

The point is "personal inward cleansing from involvement in false teachings and 'godless chatter' [2 Timothy 2:16]. ... [A] person who desires to be used by God must be cleansed from sin and then stay clean by refraining from contacts and activities that could soil him or her." [ref] As another source puts it: "What we are to avoid is not so much contact with [false teachers] as their error and their evil. To purify ourselves ‘from these’ is essentially to purge their falsehood from our minds and their wickedness from our hearts and lives. Purity, then -- purity of doctrine and purity of life -- is the essential condition of being serviceable to Christ." [ref]

sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21)
"This utensil 'for special use' [2 Timothy 2:20] has three qualities that could also be considered privileges." [ref]

  1. "sanctified" = "set apart for God's special purposes while personally experiencing the effects of Christ's presence in their lives" [ref]
  2. "useful to the Master" = "adjectives synonymous with 'useful' include valuable, worthy, advantageous, helpful, and serviceable" [ref]
  3. "prepared for every good work" = "ready and willing, without hesitation or reluctance, to serve the Master in any task he requires [ref]

"Master" (Greek despotēs) is "[a]n expressive divine title used in Lk 2:29; Acts 4:24; II Pet 2:1; Jude 4; Rev 6:10. It is closely related to “housemaster” in Mt 10:25; Lk 13:25; 14:21; and especially in Mt 13:27, 28. It means absolute owner." [ref]

"No higher honour could be imagined than to be an instrument in the hand of Jesus Christ, to be at his disposal for the furtherance of his purposes, to be available whenever wanted for his service." [ref]

Related: Godly/Godliness


2 TIMOTHY 2:22 - In Pursuit of Genuine Godliness (v. 22)
Able To Teach

When interacting with false teachers, we should initially respond with sincere patience and gentleness. (see 2 Timothy 2:22-26) [ref]

"The way to cleanse oneself is to become detached from that which is evil and attached to that which is good." [ref]

flee from youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22)
The sense for both "flee from" and "pursue" is "Continue, or keep on, doing this" (present active imperative).

"Flee from" conveys the idea of becoming aware of a serious danger, fearing for one's safety, and then very quickly moving away from that danger (= escaping). [ref] As one commentator explains: "[W]e are to recognize sin as something dangerous to the soul. We are not to come to terms with it, or even negotiate with it. We are not to linger in its presence like Lot in Sodom (Gn. 19:15, 16). On the contrary we are to get as far away from it as possible as quickly as possible." [ref]

"Youthful lusts" are "all the passions and desires of a young and vigorous man" [ref], with specific examples including:

  • "gratifying sensual cravings, desiring the forbidden, longing for the evil, coveting what belongs to someone else, and striving for things, persons, or experiences contrary to the will of God" [ref]
  • "such lusts as pride, desire for wealth and power, jealousy, self-assertiveness, and an argumentative spirit" [ref]
  • "the emotional intensity that can often take control of younger leaders when they are threatened and feel insecure" [ref]
  • "impatience, intolerance, love of argument, self-assertion, partiality" [ref]
  • "pride, ambition, and, above all, the lust of power" [ref]
  • "impetuosity, rash self-confidence, hastiness, strife, and vainglory" [ref]
  • "impatience, contentiousness, favoritism, egotism, intolerance" [ref]
  • "This is not to be understood exclusively as a reference to sexual lust, but to ‘self-assertion as well as self-indulgence’, to selfish ambition, headstrong obstinacy, arrogance and indeed all the ‘wayward impulses of youth’ (NEB)." [ref]
  • "Paul probably thinks first of the characteristics of youth that open one up to false teaching and prevent effective ministry, everything from impatience with old ways of thinking to love of debate and the tendency to seek human approval." [ref]
  • "that impatience, which has never learned to hasten slowly and has still to discover that too much hurry can do far more harm than good; that self-assertion, which is intolerant in its opinions and arrogant in its expression of them, and which has not yet learned to see the good in points of view other than its own; that love of disputation, which tends to argue long and act little, and which will talk the night away and be left with nothing but a litter of unsolved problems; that love of novelty, which tends to condemn a thing simply because it is old and to desire a thing simply because it is new, underrating the value of experience" [ref]

It has been said that: "Carnal pleasures are the sins of youth; ambition and the love of power the sins of middle age; covetousness and carking [= 'burdensome, annoying' [ref]] cares the crimes of old age." [ref]

pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22)
"It is not enough to run away from wrong; we must run after what is good. To do this is the only way to escape temptations to evil (cf. Rom 12:21)." [ref]

The list here is similar to that "in 1 Timothy 6:11-12, but not identical. Paul was not issuing a development plan, but worthy personal objectives to pursue." [ref]

  • "righteousness" = "that state of heart and mind which is in harmony with God's law" [ref]; "whatever is just, holy, and innocent" [ref]; "giving both to men and to God their due" [ref]; "visible unrightness" [ref]; "Rather than claiming perfection or settling for mediocrity, righteousness requires the pursuit of obedience." [ref]
  • "faith" = "humble and dynamic confidence in God" [ref]; "fidelity both to God and man" [ref]; "loyalty and reliability which both come from trust in God" [ref]; "a genuine relationship with God" [ref]
  • "love" = "deep personal affection for the brothers, including in your benevolent interest even the enemies" [ref]; "the utter determination never to seek anything but the highest good of our fellow-men, no matter what they do to us, and which has for ever put away all bitterness and all desire for vengeance" [ref]; a "life of service to others" [ref]
  • "peace" = "undisturbed, perfect understanding" [ref]; "the right relationship of loving fellowship with God and with men" [ref]; "The characteristic of peace is added here no doubt because of the turbulent setting in view and the emphasis on the redemptive (peacemaking) role of God's worker." [ref]
  • "those who call on the Lord" = "with all Christians" [ref]

with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22)

  • This "alludes to the value of the community of believers for the development of Christian virtues." [ref]
  • These are those "who share with Timothy the same hunger for righteousness and who with unalloyed sincerity cry to God to satisfy their hunger." [ref]
  • "We are to love all men, but it is not possible to be at peace with all men, for this needs community of purpose and opinion; they alone who call on the Lord sincerely (as contrasted with the false teachers who had only the form of godliness, 2 Timothy 3:5, 8; Titus 1:15, 16) have this community [Theodoret]. (Romans 12:18)." [ref]
  • "The Christian must never seek to live detached and aloof from his fellow-men. He must find his strength and his joy in the Christian fellowship." [ref]
  • "God's people are often designated as those who call on the Lord (Rom 10:12, 13; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:23). They are those who are in communication with him and who respond to him." [ref]
  • "In spite of the individual challenge that Paul presented, he was not permitting Timothy to function alone. He was to find strength and encouragement from those who love Christ and who seek to be in touch with him constantly. There were others for whom he was responsible, but also some who would be peers and share a deep and common desire to be faithful." [ref]

Combining Paul's double-sided command to both flee from and pursue, we see that

we are both to run away from spiritual danger and to run after spiritual good, both to flee from the one in order to escape it and to pursue the other in order to attain it. This double duty of Christians -- negative and positive -- is the consistent, reiterated teaching of Scripture. Thus, we are to deny ourselves and to follow Christ. We are to put off what belongs to our old life and to put on what belongs to our new life. We are to put to death our earthly members and to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. It is the ruthless rejection of the one in combination with the relentless pursuit of the other which Scripture enjoins upon us as the secret of holiness. Only so can we hope to be fit for the Master’s use. If the promise is to be inherited (‘he will be a vessel for noble use’), the condition must be fulfilled (‘if any one purifies himself from what is ignoble’). [ref]

QuoteWorthy: Empty, Clean, & Available
For God to be able to use us as vessels, we must be empty, clean, and available. He will take us and fill us and use us for His glory. But if we are filled with sin or defiled by disobedience, He will first have to purge us; and that might not be an enjoyable experience. - Warren Wiersbe [ref]


There can be no doubt about the problem caused by the false teachers -- Paul repeated it several times in his letters to Timothy and Titus. They got people caught up in stupid and senseless controversies that divided the church (see also 1 Timothy 1:4, 6-7; 4:1, 7; 6:3-5, 20-21; 2 Timothy 2:14, 16-17, 23-24; 4:2-4; Titus 1:9, 13-14; 3:2, 9). These ideas caused quarrels (maxas, "fights"). Paul used terms that describe extended verbal battles. Timothy's best approach was to simply have nothing to do with them. To argue would only make Timothy angry and draw him into the very trap being set by the false teachers.

While Paul did not forbid Timothy to have contact with the false teachers (he would need contact in order to rebuke them), he did advise Timothy to stay out of lengthy talks with them because they would be "stupid and senseless" discussions, as well as probably lead to "quarrels."

In the same manner, the apostle John, writing to the believers in 2 John, told church members to avoid controversy with the false teachers by refusing to show them any kind of hospitality. They should do nothing to encourage the false teachers to continue teaching their lies. If believers listened, showed hospitality, or attempted to discuss with them, that action would show approval of the false teachings.

So what does a Christian do when confronted with cult leaders who knock at your door, requesting a hearing? The best advice is often to have very limited dialogue with them. They are being trained for evangelism, will often have a "strong" and older member of their group with them, and will only waste your time should you attempt to show them that they do not have the truth. It may seem rude to cut off debate with heretical teachers, but how much better it is to be faithful to God than merely courteous to people.

- Life Application Bible Commentary on the New Testament [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:23 - Compassion for People (vv. 23-26)

But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations (2 Timothy 2:23)
"[A]gain and again [Paul] returns to this charge against the heretical teachers, that their doctrines are unprofitable and vain, and that they breed strife about questions either unimportant or insoluble. See 1 Timothy 1:4, 7; 4:7; 6:4, 20; Titus 3:9 etc." [ref]

Here it is as though Paul is telling Timothy: "Such questions will be brought before you: refuse to discuss them." [ref]

they produce quarrels (2 Timothy 2:23)
Meaning: "They beget battles." [ref]

As one commentator explains well:

What, then, is being prohibited to Timothy, and through him to all the Lord’s servants and ministers today? We cannot conclude that this is a prohibition of all controversy. For when the truth of the gospel was at stake Paul himself had been an ardent controversialist, even to the extent of opposing the apostle Peter to his face in public (Gal. 2:11–14). Besides, in these very Pastoral Epistles he is urging Timothy and Titus to guard the sacred deposit of the truth and contend for it. Every Christian must in some sense ‘fight the good fight of the faith’ (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7), seeking to defend and preserve it. What is forbidden us is controversies which in themselves are ‘stupid and senseless’ and in their effect ‘breed quarrels’. They are ‘stupid’ or ‘futile’ (JB) because they are speculative. For the same reason they are ‘senseless’ (apaideutos), literally ‘uninstructed’ or even ‘undisciplined’, because they go beyond Scripture and do not submit to the intellectual discipline which Scripture should impose upon us. They also inevitably ‘breed quarrels’ because when people forsake revelation for speculation, they have no agreed authority and no impartial court of appeal. They lapse into pure subjectivism and so into profitless argument in which one man’s opinion is as good (or bad) as another’s. If only the church had heeded this warning! The combination of unbiblical speculations and uncharitable polemics has done great damage to the cause of Christ. [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:24 - Compassion for People (vv. 23-26)

the Lord's bond-servant (2 Timothy 2:24)
"It is evident from what follows, that the servant of the Lord here, in the Apostle’s view, is not so much every true Christian -- however applicable such a maxim may be to him also -- but the minister of Christ, as [Timothy] was." [ref] "The Lord’s slave refers especially to the called ministers and leaders, all of whom are missionaries, their great work is that of the Lord himself, namely winning people for salvation. Fighting never won a convert or corrected a member of the church." [ref]

"Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord's slave or servant is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. For a Jew this concept did not connote drudgery, but honor and privilege. It was used of national Israel at times (Isaiah 43:10), but was especially associated with famous OT personalities, including such great men as Moses (Joshua 14:7), David (Psalms 89:3; cf. 2 Samuel 7:5, 8) and Elijah (2 Kings 10:10); all these men were 'servants (or slaves) of the Lord.'" [ref]

"The fact that 'a slave' works is implied in the word itself; the thing to be noted is the fact that 'a slave' has no will of his own when he works, he is governed by the will of his Lord ([2 Timothy 2:19]: we are 'his'). When Paul says that 'a slave of the Lord must not be battling,' he refers to a slave who follows this Lord, who did not wrangle or shout or make a scene in the streets (this is the sense of Matt. 12:19; Isa. 41:2)." [ref]


“Servant” (2 Tim. 2:24) is the Greek word doulos which means “slave.” So Paul called himself “a slave of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1). A slave had no will of his own; he was totally under the command of his master. Once, we Christians were the slaves of sin, but now we are the slaves of God (Rom. 6:16ff). Like the servant in Old Testament days, we say, “I love my master … I will not go out free” (Ex. 21:5).

God’s slave does not have an easy time teaching the Word. Satan opposes him and tries to trap his listeners (2 Tim. 2:26). Also, some people are just naturally difficult to teach. They enjoy “foolish and stupid arguments” (2 Tim. 2:23, NIV) and have no desire to feed on the nourishing Word of God. Until you have experienced it, you have no idea how difficult it is to impart spiritual truth to some people.

How easy it would be to ignore them! But then Satan would get them. Paul admonished Timothy to avoid the arguments that create strifes, but not to ignore the people. He must not argue or fight. He must be patient and gentle, teaching the Word of God in meekness. It is not enough just to expose error and refute it; we must also teach positive truths and establish the saints in faith.

A servant of God must instruct those who oppose him, for this is the only way he can rescue them from Satan’s captivity. Satan is a liar (John 8:44). He captures people by his lying promises, as he did Eve (see Gen. 3; 2 Cor. 11:3). A servant’s purpose is not to win arguments but to win souls. He wants to see deceived persons brought to repentance (“I was wrong -- I have changed my mind”) and the acknowledging of the truth.

The word recover (2 Tim. 2:26) describes a man coming out of a drunken stupor. Satan makes people drunk with his lies, and the servant’s task is to sober them up and rescue them. The last phrase in 2 Timothy 2:26 can be interpreted three ways: (1) they are delivered from the snare of the devil who took them captive to do his will; (2) they are taken captive by God’s servant to do God’s will; (3) they are delivered out of the snare of the devil, who took them captive, to do God’s will. I prefer the third interpretation.

- Warren Wiersbe [ref]

must not be quarrelsome (2 Timothy 2:24)
"Quarrelsome" (Greek machomai) means "serious conflict, either physical or non-physical, but clearly intensive and bitter -- ‘to clash severely, struggle, fight.’" [ref] In Paul's day it was "used for physical combat, especially of a military kind" [ref], including "hand-to-hand combat." [ref]

kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged (2 Timothy 2:24)
Rather than giving in to the temptation to quarrel, Timothy is to be:

  • "kind" = "a disposition or attitude toward others that is helpful and peaceful" [ref]; this "means ‘mild’ and is used by Paul to describe the attitude of ‘a nurse taking care of her children’ (1 Thes. 2:7)" [ref]
  • "able to teach" = "the ability to lead [others] into the truth" [ref]; "be equipped to give an answer and able to do so" [ref]; "Timothy must be able to communicate truth and, in doing so, protect the community of believers from false doctrine (see also 1 Tim 3:2)." [ref]
  • "patient when wronged" = "enduring difficulties without becoming angry or upset -- ‘tolerant, patient’" [ref]; "the leader must set an example of tolerance and patience with those in error" [ref]; this "means literally ‘bearing evil without resentment’ (AG) and so forbearing of people’s unkindness, patient towards their foolishness and tolerant of their foibles" [ref]

"In respect of all, the servant of the Lord ought to be mild [= kind], so he will be apt to teach: in respect of adversaries, he should be patient, so he will be able to instruct. He ought neither to attack, nor resist: he ought to be mild [= kind], lest he should be the occasion of evils; and patient, so that he may endure evils." [ref] [ref]

"Able to teach" (Greek didaktikos) "in the classical Greek period actually meant 'teachable.' By the time it was used in the New Testament era, it had evolved in meaning to be 'able to teach.' However, from Paul’s functional use of this word, it’s clear that to be able to communicate effectively, a teacher must have a teachable spirit -- patient and gentle even with those who disagree." [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:25 - Compassion for People (vv. 23-26)

"The opponents ('those who are constantly placing themselves in opposition') never ceased to come up with ignorant or 'uninstructed' enquiries ( 2 Timothy 2:23). So the apostle tells Timothy to instruct these uninstructed ones, to educate the uneducated, to discipline (in this case, with the discipline of teaching; contrast 1 Timothy 1:20) the undisciplined, to inform the uninformed." [ref] Is Paul speaking of unbelievers, misled believers, or false teachers? Answer: Yes. Which is to say that what he says applies equally to all three groups.

with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition (2 Timothy 2:25)
"Gentleness" (Greek prautēs) is "‘humility, courtesy, considerateness and meekness’. Its opposite is to be brash, haughty and rude." [ref]

"Those who are in opposition" refers to "[p]rimarily unbelievers (captive to Satan [2 Timothy 2:26]), but also could include believers deceived by the 'foolish and ignorant' [2 Timothy 2:23] speculations of the false teachers; and, possibly, the false teachers themselves." [ref]

"The goal is always remedial, never punitive, when dealing with brethren (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 15). The purpose must always be to edify Christ’s body, not tear it down (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26). Thus when brethren fall into false teaching they must be treated with gentleness and Christian love." [ref] "Correcting" (Greek paideuō) means "to train someone in accordance with proper rules of conduct and behavior -- ‘to discipline, to train, discipline, training.’" [ref] Here it refers specifically to "instructing with correction." [ref]

"It is not through harsh treatment or loud teaching that the wayward will be won back to the faith." [ref] As one commentator notes well, "those who are in opposition" are:

those who embrace error, and array themselves against the truth. We are not to become angry with such persons, and denounce them at once as heretics. We are not to hold them up to public reproach and scorn; but we are to set about the business of patiently “instructing them.” Their grand difficulty, it is supposed in this direction, is, that they are ignorant of the truth. Our business with them is, “calmly to show them what the truth is.” If they are angry, we are not to be. If they oppose the truth, we are still calmly to state it to them. If they are slow to see it, we are not to become weary or impatient. Nor, if they do not embrace it at all, are we to become angry with them, and denounce them. We may pity them, but we need not use hard words. This is the apostolic precept about the way of treating those who are in error; and can any one fail to see its beauty and propriety? Let it be remembered, also, that this is not only beautiful and proper in itself; it is the wisest course, if we would bring others over to our opinions. You are not likely to convince a man that you are right, and that he is wrong, if you first make him angry; nor are you very likely to do it, if you enter into harsh contention. You then put him on his guard; you make him a party, and, from self-respect, or pride, or anger, he will endeavor to defend his own opinions, and will not yield to yours. “Meekness” and “gentleness” are the very best things, if you wish to convince another that he is wrong. With his heart first, and then modestly and kindly show him “what the truth is,” in as few words, and with as unassuming a spirit, as possible, “and you have him.” [ref]

if perhaps God may grant them repentance (2 Timothy 2:25)
Timothy "was to use every means which he had reason to believe God might bless; and the apostle intimates that, bad as they were, they were not out of the reach of God’s mercy." [ref] "The thought is not that God ever withholds repentance, but that men so often refuse to accept it." [ref]

"Repentance is not sorrow for sin, that is, contrition. Sorrow leads to repentance (2 Cor 7:9–10). Repentance is not changing direction or your ways of living; that’s a result of salvation. Repentance is changing one’s mind from false ideas to the acknowledging of the truth." [ref]

God would need to "[g]ive them such a view of the error which they have embraced, and such regret for having embraced it, that they shall be willing to admit the truth. After all our care in teaching others the truth, our only dependence is on God for its success. We cannot be absolutely certain that they will see their error; we cannot rely certainly on any power which argument will have; we can only hope that God may show them their error, and enable them to see and embrace the truth." [ref



Is repentance, as someone has said, “being sorry enough about your sins to stop”? What is true repentance, and how can we know if we have repented?

The OT concept of repentance
Two OT words have been translated “repent” in the NIV and NASB. The first, nâcham, means “to be sorry,” “to regret,” or “to have pity, compassion.” The KJV translated the Niphal stem of this verb by “repent” almost forty times. It is likely that our association of repentance with emotion -- with being sorry -- is closely linked to this translation. Nāḥam is translated “repent” only once in the NIV (Job 42:6) and only three times in the NASB (Nu 23:19; Job 42:6; Jer 26:3).

The word that expresses the biblical concept of repentance is shûb. This verb is found over a thousand times in the OT, with a wide range of meanings. However, in the 164 uses of this word in a covenant context, it indicates turning from evil to God, from evil ways to God’s ways, or from God to idols. Shûb is that commitment to a faith and way of life that involves turning from a previous way, and this is to “repent.”

There is no doubt that at times a change of commitments is preceded by agonizing conviction of sin. But repentance itself, as it is illustrated in the OT, is essentially the “about-face” of a new commitment.

The NT concept of repentance
The Greek term meaning “to repent” is metanoeō, and “repentance” is the NIV and NASB translation of metanoia. A number of other words, such as “conversion,” are also associated with the new direction for life that repentance implies. But it is metanoia that is translated “repentance” in the NIV and the NASB.

In the NT, metanoeō and metanoia are used in the same way as shûb in the OT -- to emphasize a change of mind and attitude. To repent is to make a decision that changes the total direction of one’s life.

The message of John the Baptist to Israel was that they were to ready themselves for the Messiah by making a decision to turn from their evil ways back to holiness (Mt 3:2; Mk 1:15). In Jesus’ early ministry he concentrated on the same theme (Mt 4:17; Mk 6:12). Later, when Jesus himself had become the issue, the call to repentance was a call to change one’s mind about him and to make a personal commitment to him (Lk 13:3, 5; cf. Ac 2:38; 3:19). In the age of grace it is God’s kindness in withholding merited judgment that gives human beings time to repent (Ro 2:4). The significant and controversial mention of repentance in Heb 6:6 is discussed in another article.

“Repentance” expresses a basic doctrine, but it does not emphasize emotion or stand beside faith as an added essential for salvation. Repentance in both the OT and the NT provides a perspective on faith. For faith in a biblical sense is commitment, not merely “belief about.” One who repents has faith, for it is faith in God that is expressed when we carry out a decision to turn from our old ways and to commit ourselves to God’s ways.

- Lawrence O. Richards [ref]



2 TIMOTHY 2:25 -- Is repentance a gift of God or an act of man?

PROBLEM: Paul speaks here of God “granting them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (cf. Acts 5:31). Yet in other places, repentance is considered a person’s own act. Jesus, for example, calls on people to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Paul tells us that God “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). But doesn’t it have to be either an act of God or else an act of the individual believer?

SOLUTION: There are two possible answers here, neither of which negates a person’s God-given responsibility to exercise free choice. First, repentance could be an actual gift of God, but like other gifts, it must be received to be enjoyed. On this view, God offers all who are willing the gift of repentance unto eternal life. Those who are not willing do not get repentance. In this way, God is impartial in His offer, but man is still responsible to accept or reject the gift of repentance necessary for salvation.
A second view simply notes the two different senses in which repentance is used in these seemingly opposed verses. One set of verses is speaking of repentance as an opportunity and the other as an act. The former is simply a disposition given by God, leaving the actual action of repenting to human beings. The former is a God-given provision, while the latter is a man-made decision. This view can be summarized as follows:

As a God-given opportunity ... As a free human act
As a disposition from God ... As an action of man
As a provision of God ... As a decision of man

So understood, there is no contradiction in the diverse texts on repentance. Whichever interpretation is taken, one thing is certain, there is no verse saying God repents for us. Each free moral creature is responsible to repent for himself. The same can be said about whether faith is a gift of God or not.

- Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:26 - Compassion for People (vv. 23-26)

they may come to their senses (2 Timothy 2:26)
That is, "if they may awake, and shake off sleep." [ref] "[W]hile under the influence of error, they were like a man intoxicated, or like one in deep slumber. From this state they were to be roused as one is from sleep, or as a man is recovered from the stupor and dullness of intoxication." [ref

(and escape) from the snare of the devil, having been held captive (2 Timothy 2:26)
"They have been caught while mentally intoxicated in the devil’s snare (1 Timothy 3:7)." [ref]

As one commentator explains well: "There is no mixing of figures between sobering up and getting out of a snare. There is a most telling combination: like blind drunkards these people got caught in the devil’s snare and then, of course, drunk as they were, could never get out of it. But repentance and a realization of the truth mean complete sobering up, and so this, indeed, takes them out of the devil’s snare. Comparing 1 Tim. 3:7, we take it that these are people who, after becoming Christians, got caught in the devil’s snare by being misled as [2 Timothy 2:18] indicates. Proper treatment and careful teaching and education may rescue them." [ref]

having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26)
This phrase has led to much discussion. As one commentator explains: "The Greek is not clear because two different pronouns are used meaning ‘him’ and ‘his’. If no distinction is intended, both would refer to the devil. But another interpretation is possible in that ‘his will’ may refer to the will of God, who is also seen to have taken captive those who escape from the devil. But this is difficult because it implies that those who escape one snare fall into another. A third possibility is to take the word in the sense of being taken captive by the devil to do God’s will, thus distinguishing the pronouns. But this seems a strange idea and the first interpretation is to be preferred." [ref]


Compassion is spelled out graphically in the conflict setting described in [2 Timothy 2:25-26], both in terms of what Timothy is to do and in his reason for doing it. First, Timothy is to respond to his opponents with "gentle instruction." It is not through harsh treatment or loud teaching that the wayward will be won back to the faith. The qualification gently, which Paul uses elsewhere of Christ and Christlikeness (2 Cor 10:1; Tit 3:2), by no means precludes forceful instruction or correction. The forbearing spirit it implies, however, intends to ensure that all such teaching will have the genuine good of the hearers in mind. Why? Those who oppose the truth (the false teachers and their followers) may yet be brought to repentance and be saved.

Here several things become clear about the battle that Timothy is to fight. First, it is a battle for the minds of people. Repentance is seen as an aspect of God's grace, but it involves a human change of mind, a human response. The importance of the mind is seen too in come to their senses (a return to clarity of thinking) in [2 Timothy 2:26]. The false teaching has captivated minds and hearts to do the will of Satan; God's teaching clears these channels so that a decision for him may be made.

Second, it is a battle against Satan, not simply against a human opponent (compare Eph 6:11-12). All opposition to God and God's servants is ultimately engineered by the devil (see on 1 Tim 3:7; 4:1). God's enemy is actively and consciously behind the false teaching (the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will; compare 2 Cor 4:4). The Christian who forgets this takes a great risk.

Third, the stakes in this battle are very high. To put it simply, eternal salvation is at stake. The goal of repentance is the knowledge of the truth, salvation, which from our perspective involves a rational decision about the gospel. Minds muddled by false teaching cannot make this decision (see on 1 Tim 2:4). This passage underlines again the depth of God's love as he relentlessly pursues even those who trade the gospel they have known for an opposing message. It also underlines the responsibility of God's people, who must embody his patient love in this pursuit. The alternative is enslavement to the devil. There is no neutral ground.

So the one who would serve God must be committed wholeheartedly to God, to his Word and to reaching people in need. While we would agree unreservedly to the first two conditions, we might be tempted to place some limits on the last one. But the passage before us takes compassion to the very limit, even as far as those who actively oppose the gospel, who have defected from the faith. When we consider the defection and reinstatement of the early disciples and our own experiences of God's mercy, compassion even to this extent is not unreasonable, no matter what must be endured.

- Philip H. Towner [ref]


*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. ( | **This outline is from The Bible Exposition Commentary, by Warren W. Wiersbe