Faithful and Able

Tom Burke

October 2015
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The Epistle of II Timothy is in some ways one of the saddest of Paul’s epistles, in that it was written at a time when Paul knew he did not have much longer to live. And yet, due to this very fact, as well as to the condition of the church at the time, II Timothy is one of the clearest and most pointed of all Paul’s writings: this was not a time to deal with peripherals, this was a time to get down to the essentials.

As we consider the entire epistle, it becomes clear that the list of essentials was a list of one. Throughout the letter, Paul gives a number of charges (or commands) to Timothy, and each of them emphasizes one thing and one thing only—the gospel. Continue to hold fast to the gospel, continue to teach the gospel, and continue to guard the gospel.1

One of these charges can be found in II Timothy 2:2.

II Timothy 2:2
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

This verse gives rise to several questions. First of all, what were “the things” that Timothy had heard? Certainly, as one who travelled and served with Paul, Timothy had heard many things. But what had he consistently heard among many witnesses? The gospel.

In addition, one might ask who these faithful men were. Obviously, none of us can predict whether another man or woman will be faithful to God and His Word for a lifetime, but we can and should know those who are faithful right now. And these were the ones to whom Timothy was instructed to commit not his own version of the gospel, but “the same” that he had heard from Paul.

Why was Timothy not allowed the freedom to present his own thoughts on the matter? Why must he imitate Paul? The answer may be found in Galatians 1.

Galatians 1:11, 12 (New English Translation)
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.
For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul had been a faithful minister of the gospel, so much so that he sometimes referred to it as “my gospel.” But the message did not originate with him, and for this reason he did not have the right to alter it, only to preach it. He is requiring the same of Timothy.

Returning to II Timothy 2:2, we must ask why Timothy is instructed to commit these words only to faithful people. Did not Jesus himself instruct the disciples to preach the gospel to all? He certainly did, and Paul echoed this command. (See, for example, II Timothy 4:2.) However, this verse is not speaking of preaching, or even of teaching, but of committing.

The Greek word translated “commit” in this verse, is paratithemi. It is used most frequently in Scripture in relation to the serving of food. This may seem strange at first. But let me ask you – if I were invited to dinner at your house, would you simply dump the food on the table in front of me? (If so, please don’t invite me to dinner!) No. I expect that for any guest, and even for family, you would take the time to set the table, place the food in appropriate serving dishes, and see to it that everyone had access to the entire meal.

Perhaps you can see the application in II Timothy 2:2. We are to preach the gospel to all. But for some, we are to carefully see to it that they are fully “fed,” lacking nothing.

Is this being a respecter of persons? Certainly not! In fact, if that were the case we would have to accuse God of being a respecter of persons, for this is His Word, and it clearly states that there is a group within the church who can be designated as “faithful,” implying that there is another group who cannot.

Although God is never a respecter of persons, He is a respecter of conditions. And faithfulness is a condition brought about not by an accident of birth, but by a choice, or a series of choices. Because they have chosen faithfulness, the gospel is committed to them. For it is the faithful who, like Timothy, can be counted on to not only hear and believe the gospel, but to hold fast to it, guard it, and preach it without adulteration. They are the ones who will “teach others also.”2

However, how can I be sure that those who are faithful will be equally able to teach others? After all, the ability to communicate can vary greatly among individuals. Some are “natural born communicators;” others, even with training and experience, remain barely competent at best. At least part of the answer can be found in II Corinthians 3.

II Corinthians 3:5, 6a
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament.3

Some Christians may fear that, though they love God, they could never become capable ministers of His Word. Others are confident that they need no help at all in this area. Both are wrong. And to both, these verses contain a startling and sobering message: though no man or woman will ever be capable by their own efforts, God can make us able. In truth, there is no individual who cannot become an able minister if he or she will make the choice to be faithful.

Do training and experience help? Certainly. Yet in the final analysis, might strengths and weaknesses still vary in different individuals? Yes, they can and will. This may prove to be confusing or even divisive to some (like the Corinthians – see I Corinthians 3:2–5). But to those with eyes to see, it is another marvelous example of the beauty of the Body of Christ. For by way of these many varying voices, all can hear, all can understand, all can be touched by Christ.

Very simply, the greatest factor involved in making one able to teach others lies not in the presentation, but in the content. Those who are faithful will be meticulously careful to teach the gospel that has been committed to them, nothing more and nothing less. For the power lies not in the man or woman speaking, but in their words—not in the gospel-preacher, but in the gospel itself.

Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

The gospel regarding Jesus Christ does not simply point to salvation—it, in itself, is the power of God unto salvation. For those who desire to become able ministers, the answer lies not in the messenger, but in the message itself. The faithful—and only the faithful—shall be able.

1 As used here, “the gospel” refers not to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but to the good news regarding Jesus Christ and all that is now available due to his finished work. See, for example, II Timothy 1:9–11.

2 In light of this, it is worth noting that the word “commit” in II Timothy 2:2 is rendered as “entrust” in many modern translations.

3 In these verses, the words translated “sufficient” (v.5) and “able” (v.6) are translated from the same Greek word that was translated “able” in II Timothy 2:2. “Sufficiency” (v.5) is a form of the same word.