“This is a faithful saying,
If we have died with Him, we will live with Him,
If we endure, we will reign with Him,
If we disown Him, then He will also disown us,
If we are faithless, then He remains faithful.
For He is not able to deny himself.” --Terry's Own Translation
Paul is writing his young disciple Timothy to encourage him in his ministry and walk with the Lord. As he does, he encourages Timothy to remain faithful to the Lord during trials. Paul gives Timothy several examples which he is to follow in the first half of 2 Timothy chapter two. He first tells Timothy to emulate Paul's ministry by passing on to other faithful men the doctrines Timothy learned from Paul. Timothy is then to emulate a soldier who is able to suffer. The example of the soldier also shows how Timothy is to stay free from the entanglements of this world. The next example is that of an athlete. The athlete is an example of one who competes and wins the prize according to the rules. Then the farmer is an example of who who works hard and reaps the benefits. Paul then transitions to his own example of how he himself is suffering for Christ by being bound in chains like a criminal. Paul's suffering is not without cause. He is suffering so that the elect can obtain salvation in Jesus Christ. Knowing how to suffer is best taught by seeing an example rather than expounding a theory. Paul has given ample examples when we reach verses 11-13 of 2 Timothy chapter two. Paul now transitions to a hymn or Hebraic poem.1 Poetry often touches the emotions in a way that prose can not. There is some question as to whether Paul wrote this hymn or whether he is quoting a hymn known by the churches to whom Paul ministered. Some believe this hymn is a quote from a larger poetic work.2 Though the literary style may suggest that it is a piece of a larger work, however, there is no record of this so-called larger work in any textual evidence, and therefore must be regarded as mere conjecture until such a work can be found. This hymn may or may not be complete in the form recorded by Paul. The poem we have in our Bible though is not lacking in theological content, nor lacking in warning to those who disown the Lord, nor is it lacking in encouragement in the rewards for those who remain faithful to the Lord during suffering.
"A Faithful Saying Is This” 2 Timothy 2:11a
The phrase “This is a faithful saying” is somewhat debated as to whether it refers to the content of 2 Timothy 2 verse 8, verse 10, or to verses 11-13. The most natural way of interpretation is to apply this phrase to verses 11-13 since it is more of a saying.3 A hymn or poem is more naturally referred to as a 'saying' rather than the examples of Christ or Paul his follower.
In this introduction to the hymn it is also appropriate to talk about the usage of the word 'gar'. This is a postpositive which means 'for' but is placed one word after where it would normally in English. This usage of the word 'for' gives reference to something preceding it normally. Fee contends that the usage of the word gar shows the antecedent to which it refers is verses 1-10 and that verses 11-13 summarizes the teaching from the first part of the chapter.4 Guthrie contends that the gar refers to the other parts of the hymn Paul did not quote.5 Many common songs, proverbs and sayings need not be quoted in full to gain the full impact of the cultural dialog that accompanies their usage. One need only quote the first line of “The Star Spangled Banner” to get Americans to swell with national pride. It is possible that Paul and Timothy's cultural context would have given a fuller meaning to the hymn which Paul has included in this letter. However, we do not know if there is more to this hymn. It is entirely possible that Paul composed these couplets for this letter alone. Again this is based on style and structure but is mere conjecture. The most natural way to interpret the usage of the word gar is that it refers to its immediate antecedent. Therefore the best interpretation of the word ' gar' is that it shows that the couplets in this hymn summarize the teachings Paul expounded earlier in this chapter. Which of course is easily supported by the fact that the examples of the soldier enduring hardship, the athlete competing with discipline, the hardworking farmer, and Paul suffering in prison all show one who suffers willingly as a part of his calling. The hymn expounds how Timothy and those he is to disciple should suffering for Christ and endure hardship.
“If we have died with Him, we will live with Him” 2 Timothy 2:11b
This stanza of the hymn is parallel to Romans 6:8 where Paul again says “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (ESV)6 The wording in the two passages is not exactly the same in the original Greek, but close. The passage in Romans 6 discusses the spiritual baptism of the believer. The believer is united with Christ in both His death and His resurrection. While some associate the baptism in Romans 6 with water baptism, this baptism is not a mere ceremony that points to Christ's death and resurrection, but one that unites the believer with the power of the resurrected Lord. The old nature is crucified in this baptism. Therefore the baptism of Romans 6 is spiritual baptism. However those who see the baptism of Romans 6 would unit the two passages differently. To them, due to the parallelism of 2 Timothy 2:11b with Romans 6:8 some would say that this hymn is a baptismal hymn suggesting that the hymn was used during baptism ceremonies. While there is a definite connection between the ideas and language of the two passages, there is no evidence that this passage has a special ceremonial usage. Again this is the work of conjecture that should be avoided lest one add to the meaning of Scripture. However, both passages point to how the Christian is united with the death of Christ. This is done at one's spiritual baptism when the Holy Spirit cleanses one's heart because of the work of Christ on the cross.
Fee sees that the death is not merely pointing to the believer's union with Christ in his death because of our spiritual baptism, but that there is a larger allusion to possibility of that the believer may be martyred.7 The believer is not merely pointed to his union with Christ, but how he may join Christ in being killed by the enemies of Christ. The believer is not merely thinking of dying with Christ metaphorically but is led to think about the possibility of dying for the Savior and then being resurrected with him. Again this is not a metaphorical resurrection but the future glory of living in eternity with Christ. This refers to the believer's eternal dwelling with Christ. Calvin cross references this phrase with Romans 8:29 where Paul says “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (ESV). Calvin not only connects the conforming into the image spiritually but also sees that the believer might suffer persecution or martyrdom graciously in the same way that Christ did.8
Being united with Christ's death happens at conversion. The verb used to express 'dying with Him' is aorist which is used to either show simple action or past, completed action. In this case it shows past completed action. While there is a suggestion that we may die physically for Christ in a literal fashion, this merely points to Christ's greater sacrificial act of giving His innocent life for our guilty life. While we may be honored to die for the Savior, His action is complete. We now are living the beginning of the resurrected life as we live by faith. The verb expressing that 'we will live with Him' is in the future tense. There will be a greater fulfillment in glory but we begin that life as soon as we receive Christ by faith.9
“If we endure, we will reign with Him” 2 Timothy 2:12a
This second stanza of the hymn is a parallel passage to Mark 13:13 where Jesus says, “And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (ESV)10 In this passage Jesus talks about how the believers is to be on his guard because he will be persecuted by the counsels, those in the synagogue, the government officials, and even family members will persecute one. This passage points to an eschatological glory that the believer will have especially if he endures the persecution. Another related passage is Romans 12:12 where Paul says “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”11 The context of this passage is one of the believer living in accordance with virtue.
Paul uses the word 'endure' in verse 10 and here in verse 12. In verse 10 Paul refers to his own enduring for the sake that the elect will know the eternal salvation. The idea here is not that the person would just endure persecution but that he would be like Christ. The believer would be like Christ by suffering like Christ. As he shares in the same suffering, persecution and martyrdom, then the believer would share in the future eschatological glory. The first stanza is about conversion, but now this second stanza is about ruling in a royal fashion with Christ in His heavenly kingdom.
“If we disown Him, then He will also disown us” 2 Timothy 2:12b
This third stanza gives a warning to the original recipients, Timothy and those whom he teaches. They dare not apply this passage in some theoretical way to others. It is meant to warn in the same fashion that stanza two was meant to comfort. Both stanzas give reason to endure and not deny the Lord.
The question arises if this applied to Timothy and others in the New Testament church, does this mean that the believer can fall away from Christ? Does this mean that one can loose his or her salvation?12 The temptation when we come to a passage that seems to disprove a doctrine we hold to, is to make passage say something other than what it appears to say for the sake of preserving our doctrine. The other extreme is that we allow opposing ideas be drawn from the Scripture with no attempt to reconcile the teachings, thus making the Scripture appear to be without coherence in its doctrines. We must resist the temptation to run too quick to a solution and the temptation to ignore passages that need to be reconciled. In this passage we error if we try to make the warning of stanza three not apply to Timothy and therefore to you and I. We also error if we allow our interpretation of the the third stanza to create a new way of salvation. If we strictly interpret the third stanza of this hymn to be that we must endure in order to be saved, then we say that to be saved we must endure persecution and possibly martyrdom. Salvation is by grace through faith alone. (Ephesians 2:8)
Hughes attempts to first reconcile the passage with the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer by saying that there are different levels of denying the Lord. There is the level that Peter denied the Lord and later was forgiven and restored. Then there is the level of full blown apostasy. Of course every time we sin, whether it is a sin of commission or a sin of omission we deny the Lord at a certain level. We do not normally think that every time that we commit a sin that we have caused our Lord to eternally to deny us. Though each sin should be taken seriously, our normal daily sins and Peter's sin of denying the Lord during his trial does not and did not cause the Lord to deny them. Hughes explains that the act for which the Lord will deny us is full blown apostasy 1) because Christ denies those who do it, 2) because of the close similarity with Jesus' saying, and 3) because the fourth stanza refers to temporary unfaithfulness.13 While I hold to the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer, the first and second reason stated are merely proving what one postulates. The assumption that there is eternal security for the believer does not prove it. Jesus teaches in Matthew 10:22 by says “you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (ESV) This comes in the context of Jesus telling his disciples that they would be persecuted in the synagogue, by the government, and even by their own family. There is parallel ideas and phrasing here between Matthew 10:22 and this third stanza of the hymn. But the Matthew 10:22 passage does not explicitly teach the eternal security of the believer. It is best to go to other passages. Philippians 1:6 tells us that God is the one who keeps us until the end. 2 Peter 1:10 tells us make our election and calling sure, and then we know that we can not be plucked out of God's hand.
The classic Reformed position is to explain this doctrine by saying that there are some who go through all the right motions and say all the right words that would indicate that they have saving faith in Christ. However, they have never truly received Christ by faith. While they have been in Church and around church, they have not experienced the transforming work of the Spirit. These who have a profession of faith lack the transforming work of grace, and when persecution and trials come, they do not stick with it. Those who would fall away from the faith and not return are those who never possessed the saving faith in the first place. None of us infallibly knows the heart of man so we cannot assume to know whether someone is has saving faith in an absolute sense. We can only discern whether a person claims to have faith in the Savior and whether their doctrine conforms with that of Scripture. In looking at our own lives each person must judge whether he or she has faith. When we sin grievously against the Lord, we must ask ourselves in self-examination is this because we have not trusted in the Savior? If we have sinned we should take it seriously. We should seriously ask ourselves if we have saving faith and turn to the mercy of the Lord. At the same time, we must not doubt God's forgiveness and mercy when we sin. Nor should we see salvation as being earned by remaining faithful to the Lord till the end. But if someone who feels himself to be a believer sees that he is in sin, such as the apostasy mentioned in this third stanza of disowning the Lord, he should examine himself to see if he truly has faith. He should fall on the mercy of the Lord and seek the grace of God given freely to all who believe. This is the classic Reformed position on Scriptures that urge the Christian to examine whether they have saving faith.14 It is also the classic Reformed position that all who are saved will never fully and finally fall away, God will keep them until the end. This reconciles words of warning such as this third stanza with other Scripture that teach the eternal security of the believer.
In the first two stanzas of the hymn, the apodosis is what 'we' shall have happen to us. In this third stanza the shift is away from 'we' to what 'he' will do. In a literary sense, this helps draw attention and emphasis to the new message of the third stanza. The point of the Lord's denying those who deny him is emphatic.15 Calvin also points out the threat is real. He asks why we would embrace the temporal and be unfaithful to the eternal? Calvin does not accept the excuse that one failed in a moment of weakness.16 In Calvin's days persecution of believers was a reality with the result being death. It may be difficult for those in post-modern America to see this Scripture with same eyes as Calvin. However, we are not guaranteed that our present peace and prosperity will continue.
“If we are faithless, then He remains faithful, For He is not able to deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13a
Clearly Paul means to give hope in the fourth line. Our faithlessness is contrasted with the faithfulness of God. This contrast of the fourth stanza's judgment of God with the third stanza brings the reader back to the mercy and grace of God. Both stanzas remain true.
Fee points out three ways to interpret this fourth stanza. The first is God will remain faithful to his own character and met out judgment on those who are faithless. This would be the opposite of how God's faithfulness is used in the New Testament. The common New Testament teaching is that God's faithfulness is meant to comfort. There two ways to interpret the fourth stanza while holding that God's faithfulness is meant as a comfort rather than a warning. The first is that if we have a minor turning away from the Lord, God will not judge us but show mercy. This idea is consistent with the teaching that a believer cannot fully and finally fall away from the Lord. Another way of interpreting this is that God is faithful to body of believers who remain faithful to the Lord. It is discouraging to those who see fellow believers turn from the Lord, sometimes even leaders turn from the Lord. In the end the believer's final trust must be in the Lord who is always faithful and not fallible man. To summarize the two ideas, one is that God's grace will override our unfaithfulness and the other is that God's eschatological salvation will not be diminished by some people's unfaithfulness.17
Paul argues the reason for God remaining faithful is that he is consistent with his own character, “he cannot disown himself”. Remaining faithful because of himself could apply to the concept that God is merciful despite the failings of the believer. God remaining faithful also could mean that he is faithful to his people even during persecution and martyrdom. Both are consistent with the nature of God. Because both are logically possible by looking at the character of God, we must further examine the context of the passage to decide which is true. in the first half of the chapter, all examples Paul uses to explain the faithfulness ability to endure hardship. The emphasis is for the audience to remain faithful. In the second half of the chapter after this hymn, those who are shown to be lacking are those who fail to keep pure doctrine or those filled with strife. It appears Paul has not pointed to anyone who has disowned the Savior, but merely pointed to the idea that his audience should not. To say that those who are faithless are those fellow believers who have disowned the Lord is introduce a new concept and the reference would be some what obscure. Though the strength of this position is that it has less overall logical tension, introducing a new party to the discussion and then never mentioning them again would only serve to confuse. Therefore, Paul is probably saying that when the believer has failings God will remain faithful.
The 21st Century church in America does not normally face significant persecution. Any negative actions toward believers is usually not violent or life threatening. It is still true that the believer has died with Christ and will live with Him. The eschatological hope should not be diminished because of our current state of peace and prosperity. The current postmodern despair appears to be the fruit of prosperity rather than a satisfaction with our current lifestyle and state of affairs. In order to gain a sense of mean and purpose from life, we should suffer patiently for the Savior as we have opportunity. This may mean denying ourselves by giving more than is comfortable for our budget. It also might mean giving more of our time than is comfortable for us. We may suffer by taking responsibility for those who who are weak and helpless. Dying to self and selfishness is not beyond the 21st Century Christian.
While we do not suffer persecution in America, we do suffer being misunderstood and being ostracized. We must not assume that our current low level persecution will continue. It could be that we will be called to suffer in a greater way. As we respond to these light and insignificant trials, we must be prepared for more suffering than we must now endure. As we are faithful in small things, we will be prepared for greater suffering. Additionally, some may be called to go to distant lands where persecution means physical pain or death. Our decision making process as to how we should serve the Lord should not be limited by merely where the mission field is safe.
This hymn re-enforces and summarizes Paul's message that Timothy and his flock should remain faithful to the Lord while suffering. The passage could cause us to give a second examination of the doctrine of eternal security of the believer, however, it should give us cause to examine our own heart and see if we have true and enduring faith. We should see our light sufferings as a chance to endure for our Lord.
Copyright 2006 by Terry L. Pruitt
John Calvin, Translated by William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, Reprint 1974).
Earle, Ralph, Frank E. Gaebelein General Editor, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 11 (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1978).
Gordon D. Fee New International Biblical Commentary 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, 1984).
Guthrie, Donald, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Revised Edition The Pastoral Epistles, (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) p. 156
Hughes, Kent and Chapell, Brian, Preaching the Word: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard The Deposit (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2000).
Westminster Confession of Faith, The, Chapter XVII, (Atlanta, GA, Committee for Christian Education and Publications of the PCA, Reprint 1990).
1Ralph Earle, Frank E. Gaebelein General Editor, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 11 (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1978) p 400.
2Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Revised Edition The Pastoral Epistles, (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) p. 156
3Gordon D. Fee New International Biblical Commentary 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, 1984) P. 248-249.
4Ibid. p. 248.
5Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 157.
6Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 157.
7Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 249.
8John Calvin, Translated by William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, Reprint 1974) p. 217-218.
9Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, Preaching the Word: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard The Deposit (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2000) p. 205-206.
10Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 250.
11Ibid., p. 250.
12Just to note, I hold to the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer.
13Hughes, To Guard The Deposit, p. 205.
14The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XVII, Committee for Christian Education and Publications of the PCA, Atlanta, GA, Reprint 1990, p. 54-56.
15Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 250.
16Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, p. 219.
17Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, p. 251.