In his final and intimate letter to his “son in the faith,” Paul reminded Timothy of the essentials of the faith, the basis of Christian ministry. Paul did not want Timothy to drift away from the truth, as Phygellus and Hermogenes had done (1:15). Therefore he passionately exhorted Timothy to hold on tightly to the faith and to the sound teaching that Paul had entrusted to him (1:13).
Paul knew that consistency and personal integrity (2:22–26) would be a significant factor in the young pastor’s effectiveness. So Paul warned Timothy about associations with others (3:1–5), encouraging him to reflect on their years together as an example of ethical consistency in the midst of difficulty (3:10–15). In fact, Paul wrote, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (3:12). Timothy certainly had vivid memories of trials in ministry to illustrate Paul’s point (see Acts 19:21—20:6).
But Paul also made sure that whatever other counsel he gave his pupil, Timothy would find beneath it all a rock-solid dependence on God’s Word. Timothy’s authority would not come from his own wisdom, Paul’s endorsement, or the acceptance of others. His teaching would stand only to the degree that it was based on Scripture.
Paul’s ringing tribute to the authority and practicality of God’s Word (3:16, 17) completes a section which begins in 2:2 with his charge to Timothy to “commit” what he had learned to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” In 3:17, Paul offered the central test for measuring whether the gospel torch had been successfully passed from one generation to the next. The application of God’s Word in four distinct ways would insure that the next generation would become “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (3:17). Effective teaching would include (1) doctrine, the basic truths of the faith; (2) reproof, or challenging and confronting each other with the Word of God; (3) correction, by providing guidance from the truths in Scripture; and (4) instruction in righteousness, the personal and practical application of biblical truths.
Paul was encouraging Timothy not only to pass the truths of Scripture on to the next generation, but also to pass on the basis of those truths, the Word of God itself. As we follow in Paul’s footsteps, we too must make it clear that the authority of our teaching comes from the Bible. If we teach the truth but do not teach the source of truth, we will not succeed in passing on our faith. Our affirmations and actions have to be founded on God’s Word or they will be little more than wishful thinking.