This letter was written by the Apostle Paul, while in prison in Rome. This was Paul’s second imprisonment. He was released from his first imprisonment, where he was under house arrest (Acts 28:30). Tradition holds that at the time of writing this, his last epistle, Paul was in Mamertine Prison, which was a “death row” prison. It is clear from the letter’s contents that Paul expects to be executed.
His purpose in writing this letter to his primary disciple Timothy was to bolster Timothy’s courage, and provide him with all the reasons why he too ought to embrace living life as a faithful witness who does not fear death, loss, or rejection. By application, Paul’s letter applies to any believer who desires to gain the most from their time on earth.
Paul pushes Timothy to be strong, because Christ gives him favor and has a purpose for his teaching. Timothy is exhorted to pass on Paul’s teaching to faithful men, to suffer like Paul has as a good soldier serving his general (Christ), who lives life like an athlete trying to win a prize (Christ’s reward), who works hard like a farmer to reap benefit. Paul adds that the Lord will help Timothy understand Paul’s teaching, so that he can teach it effectively too.
Paul shows that even though he is imprisoned, the word of God cannot be suppressed. We should remember Jesus, who rose from the dead and is the Davidic King promised by God. Paul suffers for Christ because he wants others to believe in Jesus, and for all believers to share in the reward of Christ’s rule when He returns. When we believe, we symbolically/spiritually die and resurrect just as He did, and we are forever in His family and His favor. If believers live for Him and endure suffering, we will reign with Him. If we waste our life and are disloyal, we will still get to be with Him after death, but will lose rewards we could have had.
Timothy should remind those he teaches that they should suffer and serve Jesus, and should not waste time on pointless arguments about irrelevant beliefs that only harm and mislead other believers. Paul tells Timothy to root himself in truth, which pleases God. He names specific men who are spreading untrue messages among the believers. Paul says to avoid them, but rest confidently in God, for He knows who has faith. He calls His people to stay away from evil.
Paul gives an analogy about the importance of living a clean life, to view one’s self as belonging to a special purpose given by God. We are not plates made of wood or mud, we are like plates of gold and silver, meant for honorable use. Thus, Paul warns Timothy against lust, against idly talking about things that lead to arguments; rather he is to be loving and peaceful, patient and kind to the believers he teaches, gently correcting them and guiding them to truth.