Updated: Feb 18, 2022
If you ever have an opportunity to visit Rome, I highly recommend visiting the Mamertine Prison, which is located right next to Palatine Hill and the Coliseum. The Mamertine Prison is where Paul was temporarily imprisoned when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. I am usually very skeptical about such “historical landmarks” since, during the dark ages of the church, people said anything to make a little money. However, there is substantial evidence that this indeed was the location of the famous Mamertine prison and, since it was the only prison in Rome to house capital punishment prisoners, we are confident this was where Paul was held.
Originally it was just a hole in the ground, but during the 4th century a church was built on its location. Whenever I go there, I imagine Paul sitting on the cold damp floor, chained to a stone pillar, writing that famous letter to his young protégé. If you visit the prison, you will never read 2 Timothy again in the same way.
Paul’s main reasons for writing to Timothy were that he was lonely and he wanted to give Timothy some last-minute instruction and encouragement. Paul knew that his life was ending – Nero was going to have him beheaded very soon – and he wanted to reach out one more time to his young “son” in the faith. When I read the letter and I put myself in his shoes, my heart breaks for Paul. No doubt he felt compelled to give Timothy some encouraging words before he was taken from this earth. Paul was always a great mentor to Timothy, teaching him the ways of the Lord and helping him develop into a solid pastor. But now Paul was not going to be around much longer and would not be available to help Timothy, so he wanted to leave him with some encouraging words.
But what were those words? What was so important to Paul that he wrote them to Timothy as sort of a “last will and testament”? In my mind, you can sum up Paul’s instructions in three ways. He admonished Timothy to:
1) be bold in his witness,
2) reach and teach sound doctrine, and
3) be on his guard about future heresies.
All specifically important to Timothy as a servant of the Lord as well as a young pastor.
Of course, our purpose for reading 2nd Timothy is not to learn about an ancient prison or acquire some historical facts. We want to know what Paul wrote and why so we can apply it to our lives as well. Paul was not just writing to Timothy; the Holy Spirit was writing to us all. And so, the desperate plea Paul wrote is, in reality, the desperate plea the Holy Spirit is speaking to our hearts today.
Listen again to what He is saying: be bold in your faith; teach sound doctrine; watch out for heresy. Those are timeless words of warning to every Christian in every age. The enemy uses the same tricks repeatedly. He is not highly creative. He speaks the same lies to us as he did to those in Paul’s day and before. Therefore, the warnings Paul gave to Timothy apply to us as well.
We need to be bold in our faith. Let us not worry about what people think of us when we share about the most loving, most generous, most incredible being one can know. Often the enemy will use those close to us to admonish us to “turn it down a bit” and “don’t make people feel uncomfortable.” I would rather make someone uncomfortable in this life than have them miss hearing the gospel and be “uncomfortable” for eternity in hell.
We need to make sure we understand and are teaching sound doctrine. Pastors and Sunday school teachers are not the only ones that teach doctrine. When you share Christ with others – whether that be family members, friends, acquaintances, etc. – you are sharing doctrine. We need to know what we believe and be able to share that clearly. The last thing the Lord needs is someone with a lot of zeal teaching inaccurate doctrine.
Study to show yourself approved, Paul instructed Timothy, in verse fifteen of chapter 2 (NKJV). Those are good words for all of us. And if we have our doctrine down, we will be able to spot the heresy when it is presented to us. I read once that bank tellers are instructed to study real currency so that they can spot a counterfeit when one is presented to them. That is true with the Word of God. Study it, dig deep into it, do not just read it so that you can “check it off” each day as a completed chore. These are the words of life and we need to “persevere in them” (1 Timothy 4:16). Heresy was not just taught in Paul’s day; there are heretical teachings being broadcast every day and you need to be able to recognize them so that you are not led astray.
Family of God, did you notice how all three of these admonishments build on one another? To be bold, we need to know sound doctrine, which will also help us recognize heresies. Take some time and read this short book today – it is only four chapters long. But read it as if Paul – or better yet, the Holy Spirit – wrote it directly to you. Apply these admonishments to your life and be a worker correctly dividing the word of truth.