The Making of a Gospel-Centered Leader


2 Timothy

The Making of a Gospel-Centered Leader


The Making of a Gospel-Centered Leader (2 Timothy 1:1-7)

Main Idea: God calls us according to His will and shapes us by His grace.

  1. A Gospel-Centered Letter
  2. A Gospel-Centered Leader (1:1-7)
    1. Paul: Called by the will of God (1:1)
      1. The origin of Paul's apostleship (1:1b)
      2. The purpose of Paul's apostleship (1:1c)
    2. Timothy: Shaped by the grace of God (1:2-7)
      1. A personal mentor (1:2-4)
      2. A godly mother (1:5)
      3. The Spirit and the gifts (1:6-7)

Paul wrote 1 Timothy while traveling, hoping that he would soon be able to visit Timothy in Ephesus (1 Tim 3:14-15). He provided instruction on the nature and practice of the church, addressing matters such as ministerial offices, widows, and public worship.

In 2 Timothy, Paul focused on the personal ministry of Timothy himself more than the ordering of the church. According to tradition, Paul wrote this second letter from an underground chamber in Rome's Mamertine prison. Based on the end of 2 Timothy, it seems Paul had already received a court hearing (2 Tim 4:16-18) and expected to be executed soon (4:6-8). Even though Paul mentioned that Luke was with him (4:11), we still picture the war-torn apostle alone and cold.134 He wanted his cloak, his scrolls (especially the parchments!), and to see Timothy. In light of his writing context, the passion and personal tone of 2 Timothy is understandable.

A Gospel-Centered Letter

A Gospel-Centered Letter

Paul's words in 2 Timothy are not only deeply personal, but they are also deeply theological. This letter to Timothy is saturated with gospel-centered content. John Stott says, "Paul's preoccupation in writing to Timothy was with the gospel, the deposit of truth which had been revealed and committed to him by God" (Stott, Message, 20). With this dominant theme in mind, Stott outlines 2 Timothy in four parts:

  • Guard the gospel (chap. 1).
  • Suffer for the gospel (chap. 2).
  • Continue in the gospel (chap. 3).
  • Proclaim the gospel (chap. 4).

Indeed, this letter is both timely and timeless. For what can be more important today than to rightly guard and give the gospel to the next generation? It is often said that we are one generation away from losing the gospel. If the gospel is assumed in one generation, it will be neglected, ignored, and/or abandoned in the next. We must keep guarding, suffering for, continuing in, and proclaiming the gospel.

This gospel-centered focus speaks loudly to us, teaching us to fix our eyes on the issues in ministry that are of first importance. At the end of life, what was Paul most passionate about? The gospel. It was, after all, "most important" (1 Cor 15:1-3).

So what is the gospel? From this letter, we could describe the good news of Jesus with six shorthand descriptions. First, the gospel is christological. It is about Christ. There is no gospel apart from Jesus—He is the Hero of the gospel (2 Tim 2:8).

Second, the gospel is biblical. God has presented the saving work of Christ in Holy Scripture. Paul said that the Scriptures "are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (3:15).

Third, the gospel is historical. Christ has appeared in human history (1:10) and will come again to usher in His heavenly kingdom (4:18). This grand narrative begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation, as the themes of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation unfold. And all of it points to the Savior who appeared in the incarnation and will soon appear again to complete the final stage of the redemptive drama.135

Fourth, the gospel is doctrinal. Christians treasure the wonderful truths of the gospel. Second Timothy speaks of many important doctrines: the promise of life (1:1), sovereign grace (1:9), Christ's victory over death (1:10), the Spirit's indwelling (1:14), the person and work of Christ (2:8), election (2:10, 19), glorification (2:10), union with Christ (2:11), repentance (2:25), and future rewards (4:8).

Fifth, the gospel is personal. It must be received personally by faith, just as Timothy, his mother, and his grandmother received it (1:4-5).

Finally, the gospel is practical. It has to do with all of life, from our families to our finances, from our schooling to our purity. Our relationships in the church, our ministries of word and deed, our affections and our fears—the gospel has practical implications for all of these things.

The gospel is practical for both the believer and the unbeliever. To the lost, the gospel is the message of salvation and hope. It proclaims that this world and the people in it are broken, but Jesus has offered Himself as the payment for sin and the redemption of the world. What could be more practical?

For believers, the gospel reminds them of their position before God, their present power, and their eternal future. The gospel gives the believer strength to endure suffering and the trials of ministry. One reason Paul was preoccupied with the gospel in this letter is that he knew Timothy's one hope for persevering until the end was found in the grace of Christ Jesus. We too will finish our leg of the race only as we rely on the benefits of our union with Christ. It is this gospel that Timothy was called to treasure, love, and proclaim. I want to consider our exposition of this letter in seven parts:

  1. The Making of a Gospel-Centered Leader (1:1-7)
  2. Gospel-Centered Bravery (1:8-18)
  3. Images of Endurance (2:1-13)
  4. Images of a Faithful Teacher (2:14-26)
  5. Godly Examples (3:1-13)
  6. Faithful to the Word (3:14-4:4)
  7. Faithful to the End (4:5-22)

A Gospel-Centered Leader

A Gospel-Centered Leader

2 Timothy 1:1-7

In these initial verses we are introduced to the key figures of the letter: Paul and Timothy. Paul begins by describing the origin and purpose of136 his apostleship and then describes some of the background of Timothy's life and ministry. As we observe verses 1-7, we learn how God calls us according to His will and shapes us by His grace. We gain important insight as to how God builds a gospel-centered leader.

Paul: Called by the Will of God (1:1)

Paul says that he was "an apostle of Christ Jesus." By claiming this title, Paul placed himself in the same camp as the Twelve who were selected by Jesus as apostles (Luke 6:13). Like these Paul had the privilege of learning directly from Jesus. He was sent by the Master with unique apostolic authority to teach in Jesus' name. Of course, Paul's apostleship was slightly different from the others' because he was somewhat of a late addition. On the Damascus Road the risen Lord commissioned him with a particular call to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16; 26:12-18). Even though Paul humbly called himself the "least of the apostles" (1 Cor 15:9), he was indeed part of this select group.

Therefore, this letter comes to us with divine authority because it comes from a divinely inspired apostle. It is a letter not just for Timothy in the first century but for Christians of all times in all places. May the Lord "give [us] understanding in everything" regarding this book of sacred Scripture (2 Tim 2:7).

The origin of Paul's apostleship (1:1b). Paul's apostleship was not owing to anything in and of himself. He states that his position was established "by God's will." Paul did not volunteer for it. He was summoned to it! He did not make a career move. He was "appointed" (1:11). Elsewhere, Paul describes his calling with pronounced awareness of God's sovereign grace and divine will:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope:... I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry. (1 Tim 1:1, 12; emphasis added)

Paul, an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ.... But when God, who from my birth set me apart and called me by His grace, was pleased.... (Gal 1:1a, 15; emphasis added)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God's will.... I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace. (Eph 1:1; 3:7; emphasis added)137

Of course, God did not shape Paul into a gospel-centered leader apart from Paul's own spiritual sweat. The apostle was a worker; he writes that he "worked more than any of them." But Paul's work was preceded by God's work of calling him, and Paul's work was made possible by the enabling grace of God: "Yet not I, but God's grace that was with me" (1 Cor 15:10).

God shaped Paul into a mighty leader by first calling him by grace and then empowering him with divine strength. While we are not apostles in the same sense as Paul and the Twelve were, we do share some common experiences with them as those who trust in Christ. Like Paul, God calls us to Himself by His own will and pleasure, and by His power He enables us to live faithfully before Him for His glory.

The purpose of Paul's apostleship (1:1c). Paul said that this calling was according to "the promise of life in Christ Jesus." Paul was commissioned to communicate the gospel, which he described as "the promise of life." As Paul awaited death, he knew there was the promise of life for those who are in Christ Jesus. The gospel gives life because at the heart of our message is a person, Jesus Christ, who is Himself "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). John says, "The one who has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12). Paul also writes that Jesus "abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim 1:10). Indeed, this theme runs throughout the Bible, for in Genesis and later in Revelation, we read of people eating of the tree of life and drinking from the water of life.

The gospel is like water: man did not invent it, and man cannot live without it. Therefore, faithful servants of Jesus will take the water to thirsty men and women. Are you showing the thirsty where you found everlasting water?

Timothy: Shaped by the Grace of God (1:2-7)

Next, let's note three shaping influences in Timothy's life. Like us, Timothy was still a work in progress! Paul mentions three means of grace that God used to transform this servant: a personal mentor, a godly mother, and the Spirit and the gifts.

A personal mentor (1:2-4). It is possible that Timothy met Paul and embraced the gospel on Paul's initial visit to Lystra (Acts 14). By the time Paul visited Lystra a second time, we know that the brothers there spoke highly of Timothy, referring to his spiritual growth and maturity. Paul then took Timothy with him on his mission (Acts 16:1-5). We138 see several snapshots of Timothy's ministry leading up to the writing of 2 Timothy. Consider the following time line:16

  • Timothy ministers with Paul and Silas in Philippi (AD 50).
  • Paul flees Berea; Timothy and Silas continue the work (AD 51).
  • Timothy rejoins Paul in Athens and brings word of the work to Macedonia (AD 51).
  • Timothy returns to Thessalonica to encourage the new believers (AD 51-52).
  • Timothy joins Paul in his ministry in Corinth, bringing word of progress in Thessalonica (AD 52).
  • Timothy comes to Ephesus to work with Paul during Paul's three-year ministry (AD 54-56).
  • Paul sends Timothy with the 1 Corinthians letter to the disordered church in Corinth (AD 56).
  • Paul comes to Corinth in person and from there he and Timothy write Romans (AD 57).
  • Timothy is with Paul during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome (AD 60-62).
  • Upon his release from his first imprisonment, Paul goes to Ephesus and appoints Timothy as pastor (AD 62).
  • Paul writes 1 Timothy and Titus (AD 62-64).
  • Major persecutions of the Christians in Rome begin, following the great fire (AD 64).
  • Paul returns to Rome, is arrested, and writes 2 Timothy from the Mamertine Prison (AD 67?).
  • Paul's martyrdom in Rome (AD 67?).

Paul viewed Timothy as his own spiritual child (cf. 1 Cor 4:14-17). He introduces Timothy in verse 2 as his "dearly loved son" and says many other wonderful things about his loyal disciple. Commending Timothy to the Philippians, Paul confesses, "For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests;... you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father" (Phil 2:20, 22). And Paul extends a greeting to his son: "Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2 Tim 1:2). In this triad Paul highlights the indescribable139 love of God. God gives grace to the desperate, mercy to the guilty, and peace to the restless—all of it through Christ.

In verse 3, Paul expresses his love for his disciple by thanking God for him. Paul mentioned that he thanked God like his "ancestors." Paul was not being disloyal to his Jewish ancestors by believing in Jesus. His faith was the fulfillment of their faith and hope. When Jews come to Christ, they are, in a sense, coming home—all the way home.

Not only does Paul thank God for Timothy, but he also intercedes on his behalf: "I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day." We know that Paul urged believers to "pray constantly" (1 Thess 5:17)—that is, to be in a continuous state of prayer—but perhaps he is referring here to periodic times of prayer. I draw this from the fact that Paul said "prayers" (plural). Paul's other references to his "prayers" (for example, Rom 1:10; Eph 1:16; 1 Thess 1:2) suggest that he set aside designated times for prayer, apparently as Jesus did (Luke 5:16). Should we pray without ceasing? Absolutely! Live in communion with God! But setting aside specific times for intercession is both wise and beneficial.

Paul was locked in a prison, but his heart was free to seek the living God in prayer. These prison prayers remind me of Arnold Dallimore's description of the First Great Awakening, a movement that swept across Britain and the Americas in the 1730s and 1740s. He notes how the prayers of imprisoned English believers preceded this revival:

Legislation was enacted which distressed the Puritan conscience, and in 1662, on one of the darkest days in all British history, nearly two thousand ministers—all those who would not submit to the Act of Uniformity—were ejected from their livings. Hundreds of these men suffered throughout the rest of their lives, and a number died in prison. Yet these terrible conditions became the occasion of a great volume of prayer; forbidden to preach under threat of severe penalties—as John Bunyan's Bedford imprisonment bore witness—they yet could pray, and only eternity will reveal the relationship between this burden of supplication and the revival that followed. (Dallimore, George Whitefield, 19-20)

Paul was not finished yet. Though imprisoned in harsh conditions, he still had important work to do: praying for his disciple, Timothy. Oh, the privilege of having faithful saints praying for us! Paul's thankfulness,140 thoughtfulness, and prayerfulness were driven by two dynamics: his peaceful condition before God, and his personal love for Timothy.

Paul's condition before God is noted with the phrase "a clear conscience" (v. 3). Paul was not sinless, but he was guiltless. That is because Jesus had taken Paul's guilt through His substitutionary death on the cross. God cleansed Paul's guilty heart from an evil conscience through the work of Christ (see Heb 10:22).

Paul experienced the wonderful blessing that every true believer shares: peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. As we approach our deaths, Paul shows us that there is nothing greater than knowing that our sins are forgiven. Is there anything more important than having a "clear conscience" before dying? The hymn writer says:

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought:

My sin—not in part, but the whole

Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!17

That's the song of one who possesses a clear conscience. Is it well with your soul?

Next, Paul's love for Timothy in particular is expressed beautifully in verse 4: "Remembering your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy." Evidently, the last time Paul and Timothy were together there were tears—maybe before Paul was taken off to the Roman prison. Now he wanted to see Timothy that he might be "filled with joy." This is the picture of a faithful believer's confidence before death and a loving mentor's attitude toward his disciple.

How important is life-on-life discipleship to you? As a pastor, it is often easy to overlook or neglect this Pauline model. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructs Timothy to invest in other men the way Paul invested in him. Do you have a Paul in your life? Do you have a Timothy in your life? Who is your spiritual son or your spiritual father?

What exactly do you do in a mentoring relationship? Verses 3-4 show us two essentials behind the act of mentoring: love and prayer. A true mentor must start here. From this starting point, I see some lessons for us who desire to mentor others. Paul helped Timothy in three areas: calling, character, and competency. In terms of calling, Paul encouraged141 Timothy to use the gifts God had given him to live out his calling (2 Tim 1:6). As for character, Paul urged Timothy to pursue godliness, endurance, love, and other Christlike qualities (3:10-12). As for ministerial competency, Paul coached Timothy on how he should respond to people appropriately (2:16, 23-26; 3:5), study the Word diligently (2:15), preach the Word faithfully (3:16-4:2), and do the work of an evangelist constantly (4:5). If you are an older leader, invest in a Timothy. Help him fan the flame of his calling, develop Christlike character, and grow in his competency.

A godly mother (1:5). Timothy not only had the privilege of a mentor, but he also had the gift of a godly mother (Eunice) and grandmother (Lois). In verse 5 Paul mentions the "faith" of all three individuals. He says Timothy, like these ladies, has a "sincere" faith, the genuine article. By Paul's statement, "I am convinced [this faith] is in you also," we are reminded of how every child must do his or her own believing. Timothy had the blessing of having a Christian mother and grandmother, but he still had to believe for himself.

While it seems that Timothy's father was an unbelieving Greek, these two ladies were vibrant Christians. Who knows? Maybe all three were converted from Judaism to Christianity through Paul's visit to Lystra. What we do know is that these godly ladies' faith was observable to Paul. Probably before they were believers, they taught Timothy the Old Testament (3:15), but now their understanding of these Scriptures was Christ centered. Timothy and these godly mothers came to know and love the fact that the Scriptures make us wise for salvation because they point us to the Savior Himself, who is the fulfillment of the Scriptures (see Luke 24:44).

From a parental perspective, having children is a wonderful gift. But with the gift comes responsibility. Are you teaching your kids the Scriptures? Do they see in you, mom or dad, a "sincere faith" in Christ? One cannot overstate the importance of living out the Christian life before watching children. I want to say to my kids, "[Follow] my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance" (see 2 Tim 3:10).

The Spirit and the gifts (1:6-7). Finally, and most significantly, God shaped Timothy into a leader through the presence and gifting of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul says, "Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you."

Judged by the surrounding context of 1 and 2 Timothy, Timothy was not a spiritual rock. He appears to be physically weak (1 Tim 5:23), personally timid (2 Tim 1:7), and relatively young (1 Tim 4:12). But142 God delights in using the weak and the ordinary in order to demonstrate His mighty power. Thankfully, God uses "clay jars" so that only He can get the glory (2 Cor 4:7)!

Knowing the reality of God's power in the life of Timothy, Paul urges him to "keep ablaze" his gift. What is this gift? We do not know for certain. It seems connected to the phrase "through the laying on of my hands" (v. 6; cf. 1 Tim 4:14). This phrase seems to refer to an ordination or commissioning in which Paul affirmed God's call in Timothy's life. If so, then this "gift" is probably related to the spiritual endowment necessary for the work of ministry. Paul is reminding Timothy that God equips His servants to fulfill their ministry by granting them spiritual power and gifting.

How encouraging it is to remember that God gives His people the authority and enablement to carry out their assignments! Not everyone will have a personal mentor or a godly mother, but God does invest spiritual gifts in every believer (1 Cor 12:7). The fourth stanza of Martin Luther's hymn captures the wonder of the Spirit and the gifts:

That word above all earthly

No thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

Through Him who with us sideth.

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill;

God's truth abideth still:

His kingdom is forever.18

Praise God, for the Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who is for us!

The gifting of the Spirit not only encourages us and inspires worship, but it also inspires hard work. Paul reminded Timothy of his personal responsibility in becoming a gospel-centered leader. He told him (1) to develop and use his gifts (v. 6) and (2) to maintain spiritual discipline (v. 7).

First, we see that the gift is like fire. This Greek verb anazopureo ("fan into flame" or "rekindle") is in the present tense, emphasizing ongoing action. Paul was urging Timothy to keep the fire alive—indeed143 ablaze—by making full use of it! He was to do this, then, by exercising his gift passionately. God gave Timothy gifts to be used and developed.

There is no room for sluggishness in the Christian life. Rest? Yes. But laziness, passiveness, and timidity should not characterize the believer. Jim Elliot's prayer captures well the spirit of this verse:

God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus. (Elliot, Shadow, 247)

Are you using your gifts passionately? Often I talk to Christians who are "waiting on a church to call so they can preach" or for some other ministry job to open up before they begin serving. While I understand their thought, we need to be careful not to overprofessionalize the ministry. If God has gifted you for gospel proclamation, then go proclaim! Maybe you do not have a brick church building to preach in, but there are people everywhere! Go preach to one, or two, or three. As Martin Lloyd-Jones says, go "gossip the gospel"—go share it with one person in a coffee shop, in a park, or in your neighborhood (Lloyd-Jones, Preaching, 24). Better yet, go overseas and gather up some kids in Africa and tell them the good news. You need to be developing and using your gifts, even if it is not in a glorious setting. Fan it into flame! That requires work, effort, and intentionality.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to maintain discipline, "for God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment" or self-discipline (1:7). Paul here addresses Timothy's shyness and weaknesses and reminds him that his fear did not come from God. What comes from God is a "spirit" of power and love and discipline.

There is a discussion on whether or not "spirit" should be translated as "Spirit" with a capital S (meaning Holy Spirit) or as "spirit" with a lower case s (implying an attitude). While Paul may have referred to "a spirit" (not the "Holy Spirit"), that does not mean the Holy Spirit is not in view here. The word "for" in verse 7 alludes back to verse 6, where the reference is to the Spirit's gifting in Timothy (Paul also made a connection with the Spirit and gifts in other places, like 1 Cor 12:4). Additionally, the words "love" and "power" are used especially for the work of the Spirit elsewhere in Scripture. Boldness, not cowardice, is a mark of the Spirit's work in believers (Acts 4:31).144

The object of Timothy's fear remains unclear. Perhaps it was evangelism, proclamation, or pastoral leadership. Whatever its cause, we know that this fear did not have to be paralyzing to Timothy. Interestingly, even Paul faced fear. When he planted the church in Corinth, the Lord appears to him in a vision and says,

Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people. (Acts 18:9-10 ESV)

Do you see this? The Lord tells Paul to fight fear with His promises. He promises to be with him, to protect him, and to use him to bring people into the kingdom. Now Paul is directing Timothy to the same source of hope. He says essentially, "Timothy, in your fear, remember that God is with you, in you, and for you; His Spirit produces the power you need to endure and the love you need to minister. Be disciplined. Be diligent. Be brave, for God is with you."

Who has not experienced timidity and fear in ministry? If you have ever been a part of a church plant, you understand the fear of the unknowns. If you have ever done street evangelism, perhaps you know this feeling. If you have ever been in a tense meeting where people oppose you, even gang up on you, perhaps you have experienced timidity. Remember: fight fear with the promises of God. The Spirit of God empowering the people of God is sufficient to accomplish the mission of God.

Therefore, there is no excuse for not performing our mission with diligence. God has given us everything we need. The Spirit and the gifts are ours! God has given us spiritual gifts to execute our ministries and Spiritual power to enable our ministry.

How then is a gospel-centered leader formed? From this passage we see the mysterious combination of God's provision and man's humble responsibility. For Paul, clearly God appointed him and enabled him, but his appointment did not mean Paul was to be passive. No! He was to proclaim the promise of life actively! In the life of Timothy, God provided a mentor, mothers, and (most of all) the Spirit and the gifts to make him into an instrument for noble purposes. But Timothy had the responsibility of using these gifts. What about you? Do you recognize the gifts God has given you? Are you resting in His promises, relying on His power, and serving Him with passion?145

Reflect and Discuss

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How is our calling different from Paul's? How is it the same?
  2. In what way is the gospel like fresh water? Is it necessary to convince people they are thirsty?
  3. Do you have a spiritual mentor? Do you know someone for whom you could be a mentor?
  4. What is the difference between being in a continuous state of prayer and setting aside specific times of prayer?
  5. How does a Christian maintain a clear conscience?
  6. Are Paul's three areas of calling, character, and competency relevant in spiritual mentoring today?
  7. What is a mother's role in raising godly children when her husband is not a Christian? What is her role if he is a Christian? What if she is a single mother?
  8. What assignment has God laid on your heart? How has He equipped you to fulfill it?
  9. How can you use God's gifts in your life in between the major tasks He assigns you?
  10. What aspect of your assignment from God makes you nervous or anxious? Which of God's promises addresses this particular fear?
HCSB Study Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010), 2082-83.

Horatio G. Spafford, "It Is Well with My Soul"; public domain.


Martin Luther, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," trans. Frederick H. Hedge; public domain.