(73) All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training – 2 Timothy 3:16

In addition to writing to churches Paul also wrote three letters to church leaders, two to Timothy and one to Titus.

Paul met Timothy in Lystra on his first missionary journey and when he passed through on his second journey he invited Timothy to join him. Timothy had a Jewish mother and had been brought up to know the Old Testament scriptures. He became one of Paul’s closest and most trusted companions and like a son to the older man. After Paul was released from prison in Rome they travelled together again until Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with issues in the church there. Titus was another of Paul’s travelling companions who Paul left on the island of Crete to appoint elders in the churches he founded on the island.

The main theme of all three letters is warning against false teaching and those who teach it. Paul warns Timothy and Titus against those who discuss myths, genealogies or other speculations which lead to distractions from advancing God’s true work. He is stinging in his attack on those who preach prohibitions on marriage and eating certain foods declaring that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Some of the false teachers used their position to gain financially and Paul warns against the dangers of wanting to get rich, “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 – sometimes misquoted as “money is the root of all evil” which is not what Paul is saying).

Paul gives a comprehensive description of how people will be “in the last days” – meaning the time between Jesus ascent into heaven and his return – saying that they will be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). This list contains a challenge to all of us in our attitudes as all are potential dangers to us on a daily basis. The final one confronts the tendency for us to become religious, making our Christianity into a ritual rather than a living, powerful relationship with Jesus.

The antidote to all this is sound doctrine, something that Paul encourages both Timothy and Titus to teach and this is based on a sound knowledge of scripture. He tells Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We are to approach God’s word expecting to be taught how to live, to be rebuked or challenged about how not to live, to seek correction where we realise our failings and, by regular, repeated application, to become trained and experienced in how to live right before God and in doing good to those around us.

Church leaders are there to teach sound doctrine and refute error, but it is interesting to note that Paul is far more interested in their character than their head knowledge: “The overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-3). We learn more from a leader’s example than from their words.

2 Timothy is the last letter we have from Paul’s hand, written from prison in Rome. He is expecting to die soon and longs to see Timothy before he dies as many have deserted him and others like Titus are engaged in work elsewhere. Only Luke is still with him. Imprisoned and cold, he asks for Timothy to bring his favourite cloak.

Paul’s impact on the spread of Christianity is impossible to underestimate. His journeys spread the good news about Jesus to the heart of the Empire but his writings have provided a treasure store of material for Christian living which has been invaluable to Christians throughout the centuries.

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