The Promise of Eternal Blessing
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself. (2:11–13)
A fourth motivation for faithfulness to Christ is the promise of eternal blessing.
Paul uses the phrase It is a trustworthy statement five times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus), but it is found nowhere else in the New Testament. He seems to have used it to introduce a truth that was axiomatic, a truism in the early church that was commonly known and believed. The long sentence beginning For if we died with Him and continuing through verse 13 may have been used as a creed in the early church. Its parallelism and rhythm suggest that these two verses (like 1 Timothy 3:16) may have been sung as a hymn, and it is for that reason that some Greek texts and several modern translations set it in verse form.
If we died with Him may refer to the spiritual death of which Paul speaks in Romans. “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death,” he explains, “in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, … for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:4–5, 7–8).
But the context of 2 Timothy 2:11 seems to suggest that Paul here has martyrdom in mind. In that case, if someone has sacrificed his life for Christ, that is, has died with Him, that martyrdom gives evidence that he had spiritual life in Him and will live with Him throughout eternity. The martyr’s hope is eternal life after death.
In the same way, if we endure persecution and hostility without being killed, we give evidence that we truly belong to Christ and that we shall also, therefore, reign with Him. That is also the hope of believers who live in difficulty—the eternal kingdom. Basileuō means literally to rule as a king (basileus). The verb here is the compound sumbasileuō, which means to reign with. The other side of that truth is that those who do not endure give equally certain evidence that they do not belong to Christ and will not reign with Him.
Although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,” Paul explained to believers at Colossae, “yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister” (Col. 1:21–23). Only if Christ is Lord of a life, can He present that life before His Father “holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” The only life that can endure is an obedient life. A life that will not serve Him will never reign with Him.
Jesus promised the Twelve, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28; cf. Luke 22:29–30). Believers also have positions of authority in the millennial kingdom, as 1 Corinthians 6:2–3 indicates: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life?” (1 Cor. 6:2–3). Speaking of all Christians in the final glory, Paul declared, “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).
To endure, or persevere, with Christ does not protect salvation, which is eternally secured when a person trusts in Him as Savior and Lord. We can no more ensure salvation by our own efforts or power than we first gained it by our own efforts or power.
The next two conditions and promises are negative and are parallel, at least in form, to the preceding positive ones.
First, Paul says, If we deny Him, that is, Jesus Christ, He also will deny us. The Greek verb rendered deny is in the future tense, and the clause is therefore more clearly rendered, “If we ever deny Him” or “If in the future we deny Him.” It looks at some confrontation that makes the cost of confessing Christ very high and thereby tests one’s true faith. A person who fails to endure and hold onto his confession of Christ will deny Him, because he never belonged to Christ at all. “Anyone who … does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Those who remain faithful to the truth they profess give evidence of belonging to God.
“What about Peter’s denial?” we may ask. “Can a true believer deny the Lord?” (cf. Matt. 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:54–62; John 18:16, 25–27). Obviously believers like Peter can fall into temporary cowardice and fail to stand for the Lord. We all do it in various ways when we’re unwilling to openly declare our love for Christ in a given situation.
Confronted by the cost of discipleship, Peter was facing just such a test as Paul had in mind. Did he thereby evidence a lack of true saving faith? His response to the denial, going out and weeping bitter tears of penitence (Matt. 26:75), and the Lord’s restoration of him in Galilee (John 21:15–17) lead one to conclude that Peter was truly justified, though obviously not yet fully sanctified. And until Pentecost, Peter did not have the fulness of the Holy Spirit. After the Spirit came to live in him in New Covenant fullness, however, his courage, boldness, and willingness to face any hostility became legendary (cf. Acts 1:5, 8; 2:4, 14–36; 3:1–6, 12–26; 4:1–4, 8–13, 19, 21, 31). Peter died a martyr, just as Jesus had foretold he would—faithful in the face of execution for his Lord (John 21:18–19). Tradition holds that, by his own request, he was crucified upside down, because he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
So perhaps the answer to the issue of Peter’s denial is that his was a momentary failure, followed by repentance. He did not as yet have the fullness of the Spirit, but during the rest of this life after Pentecost he boldly confessed Christ, even when it cost him his life.
Jesus Himself gave the sobering warning, “Whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). There is a settled, final kind of denial that does not repent and thereby evidences an unregenerate heart. After the lame man was healed near the Beautiful gate of the temple, Peter testified to the seriousness of denying Christ. “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus,” he said, “the one whom you delivered up, and disowned [denied] in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned [denied] the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:13–15).
The most dangerous of those who deny Christ are “false teachers … who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). They are, in fact, no less than antichrists. To those who claim to belong to God as Father without belonging to Christ as His Son, John unequivocally says, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22–23).
In the present text, however, Paul’s warning could include those who once claimed Christ but later deny Him when the cost of discipleship becomes too high. Such were the “disciples [who] withdrew and were not walking with Him [Jesus] anymore” (John 6:66). It is about such false Christians that the writer of Hebrews says: “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame” (Heb. 6:4–6).
Later in 2 Timothy, Paul describes such false Christians as “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (3:2–5). In his letter to Titus, he says of such people that “they profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16). Continual disobedience inevitably confirms faithlessness by eventuating in denial.
The second negative condition and promise are: If we are faithless, Christ remains faithful. In this context, apisteō (are faithless) means lack of saving faith, not merely weak or unreliable faith. The unsaved ultimately deny Christ, because they never had faith in Him for salvation. But He remains faithful, not only to those who believe in Him but to those who do not, as here. God’s divine assurance to save “whoever believes in Him [Christ]” (John 3:16) is followed almost immediately by another divine assurance that “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Just as Christ will never renege on His promise to save those who trust in Him, He also will never renege on His promise to condemn those who do not. To do otherwise would be to deny Himself, which His righteous and just nature cannot allow Him to do.
It was on the basis of Christ’s absolute faithfulness that Paul declared earlier in this letter, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). It was on that basis that the writer of Hebrews admonished, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,” and then exulted, “for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).
11 “If we died with him, we will also live with him.” The language and thought is thoroughly Pauline, resembling especially Romans 6:8: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (cf. 6:5; Gal 2:20). In light of these parallels, “died with him” likely refers to the believer’s spiritual union with Christ rather than to martyrdom (cf. Knight, 403), though readiness for martyrdom may be implied on a secondary level. Likewise, “live with him” does not refer primarily to the believer’s eternal state but his present possession of spiritual life (cf. Knight, 404).
11 As we approach what appears to be a theological affirmation, it is important to bear in mind that we are still in the midst of a section of parenesis. The theological material that follows in vv. 11–13 is both supportive and illustrative of the command “remember” given in v. 8. Although Timothy (and other readers/hearers) could deduce from the command and the descriptions of Jesus and Paul where the instructions were headed, this insertion of theological affirmations makes the obligation to join in suffering impossible to miss and too serious to dismiss. Before we examine the contents and their implications, however, some matters of structure and logic need to be considered.
The introductory phrase “here is a trustworthy saying” calls attention to the authority and possibly traditional character of the material about to be rehearsed by (see 1 Tim 1:15 Excursus). Assuming the formula is meant as a preface, its relation to the lines that follow is loose (cf. 1 Tim 4:9), and its effect within the flow of the passage is abrupt and thus more emphatic. The first line of the “saying” is connected to what precedes with the conjunction gar (“For if we died with him …”); the connection thus forms a logic that bypasses the introductory formula, and suggests that the series of conditional statements (vv. 11b–13) draws out the ethical implications of vv. 8–10 (or some part thereof).
Some of the material in vv. 11b–13 does reflect the influence of traditional sources (see below), but it has all the marks of having been shaped by Paul for insertion here: (1) the compound form of the verb “died with” Corresponds closely to the “participation in suffering” motif already established and expressed with the similar compound “suffer with” (2:3; 1:8); (2) the vocabulary is typical of the letters to Timothy; and (3) the resonance of the two parts of the passage (vv. 8–10 and vv. 11b–13) and of vv. 11b–13 to the rest of the letter is manifest. All of this is simply to say that while Paul gives the contents of the faithful saying a “formulated,” symmetrical look, it is more because of the rhetorical role it plays within this passage than because he is citing a well-known piece verbatim.
The Greek connective intends to link vv. 11b–13 with what has gone before, in order to ground the parenetic illustrations (Jesus and Paul) and the model of suffering and endurance in well-known, accepted theological affirmations and warnings. The extent of the preceding material grounded in this way is also debated. But whether we take vv. 11b–13 to be providing a basis for all of vv. 8–10 or just v. 10a, we have already seen how vv. 8–10 form a complex unity, so that v. 10a cannot be easily divided from the preceding; indeed, if we disconnect the command to “remember” (v. 8a) from the illustrations and rationale that follow (vv. 8b–10), the exhortatory nature of the teaching is lost. Paul is not inserting the traditional material simply to remind himself why he “endures” (v. 10a), but to provide a theological basis for the behavior Timothy must seek to emulate.
Paul’s symmetrical presentation of the material in vv. 11b–13 gives it rhetorical impact and gravity. Four conditional statements (“if—then”) are made in succession, with only the final condition departing from the form in that it supplies a reason for the apodosis (the “then” phrase). The form is similar to 1 Cor 15:12–19, in which a forceful argument is mounted by means of a succession of conditional statements. Johnson compares the function of the statements made here with “sentences of holy law” that emphatically reminded readers that human actions call forth appropriate divine responses. In combination with the solemn introductory formula, this genre emphasizes the certainty of the promises and warnings spelled out for Timothy.
The first line of the material enters the mysterious region of “dying and rising” with Christ: “If we died with [him], we will also live with [him].” The carefully balanced compound verbs of each half of the condition (“died with,” “will live with”) require the inclusion of the implied participant, which, as v. 8 (as well as the tradition) makes manifest, is Jesus Christ. In fact within the broader section, this line forms an interpretive link with the statement about Jesus Christ’s resurrection in v. 8; i.e. it points to the promise of vindication that Paul wants Timothy to associate closely with the reality of Christian suffering. Strengthening these connections is the conscious interplay of this line with the parallel statement in Rom 6:8 (“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that”) with which Timothy (and, in some form or another, probably any Pauline community) was almost certainly familiar (Rom 16:21). The meaning of the line hinges on the answers to two questions.
The initial verb means “to die with [someone].” It has been taken in two senses. First, in the present context, where Paul’s suffering has been a focal point (vv. 9–10) and Timothy is called to follow in that pattern (2:3; 1:8, 12; 4:5), it has been popular to understand the verb to refer to a martyr’s death. Typically, this teaching is seen as a post-Pauline application of the Romans passage, which is designed to present Paul here as the martyr whose martyrdom is then elevated to a central place within the gospel. But the past tense of the verb and the time sequence from the first to second lines (past—present) speak against this interpretation and suggest instead a metaphorical “death with Christ.”49 This is not to say that death may not accompany the one who “endures” in the gospel ministry (in fact that possibility is very much in view), but the thought of martyrdom (or the canonization of Paul’s death) as such is not in this text. It is far more likely that the thought of Rom 6:8 is a better guide to the sense intended here. There, Paul introduces the idea of “death with Christ” (as a past act, aorist) as a way of identifying the symbolic significance of the baptism-initiation-conversion experience. The aorist tense of the verb in the present text corresponds equally to a past event such as entrance into the faith and the community initiatory event of baptism that signifies participation in Christ’s death to sin (Rom 6:6, 7, 12).
As in Rom 6:8, death with Christ is followed by the promise of life with him. For this the antonym of the preceding verb (in future tense) gives the sense “we will live with [him].” The second question involves the time reference in the future tense—whether it refers solely to the eschatological future,51 or also includes the believer’s present experience “in Christ,” as in Rom 6:8. With the thought of Christ’s vindication/resurrection in mind as a model for Timothy (v. 8), the eschatological aspect of this promise is probably uppermost in mind, though this accent need not exclude the implicit understanding that present Christian living is “union with Christ” in his death and resurrection. Nevertheless, the requirements of the parenesis determine the emphasis on the certainty of resurrection as a solid foundation for Timothy’s present endurance; moreover, the “futurity” of this promise’s full realization may have served as an antidote to the misconceptions surrounding resurrection being spread by the false teachers (2:18). The first line of the saying portrays the entire scope of Christian existence, from conversion to glorification, in terms of “dying and rising” with Christ.
2:11–13 / As a way of wrapping up this segment of the argument (appeal), and thereby reinforcing the appeal itself (which now includes God’s people), Paul “cites” a fifth (and last) trustworthy (“faithful”) saying. On the formula itself, see the discussion on 1 Timothy 1:15 (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1; 4:10; Titus 3:8).
Because the saying in this instance begins with a connective gar (“for,” untranslated in the niv), some have argued that the saying is actually verse 8 or 10 or that logos does not mean saying here but refers back to God’s word in verse 9 or that the “for” was an original part of a borrowed saying that was thus incorporated by Paul, but without meaning for the present context. However, the rhythmic balance of the four lines that follow gives them the clear character of a “saying” (perhaps an early Christian poem or hymn, more likely from Paul himself or from his churches). The gar is probably explanatory—and thus intentional—but does not refer to this is a trustworthy saying. Rather it goes back to all of the appeal in verses 1–10. “Take your share of suffering,” Paul says; “keep in mind your risen Lord,” he further reminds him, “because if we have died with him, we shall also live with him,” and so on.
The poetic nature of the saying can be easily seen. It is a quatrain of conditional sentences. Each protasis (“if”-clause) deals with the believers’ actions (all in the first person plural, the language of confession); each apodosis (“then”-clause) gives the results in terms of Christ, with the final apodosis having an additional explanatory coda. It may be that couplets are intended, since the first two lines deal with positive actions and the second two with negative. However, there is also a progression of tenses (past, present, future) and ideas in the first three lines, whereas the final line exhibits some remarkable shifts (both verbs are present; no also in the apodosis; a surprising turn to the apodosis).
The most likely interpretation of the first three lines is that they progress from Christian conversion (line 1) through perseverance and its eschatological prize (line 2) to a warning about the dire consequences of apostasy (line 3). Although there are considerable differences among scholars about line 4, it probably responds to line 3 as a word of hope. Our faithfulness or disloyalty cannot alter the greater reality of Christ’s faithfulness (to us, being implied).
Before examining each line, one should note that the language and thought of the whole is thoroughly Pauline—to the detail. If he did not compose it, then it was certainly composed in his churches. In the final analysis there is no reason to think that the man who wrote 1 Corinthians 13 and Romans 8:28–39 could not also have written this marvelous piece.
Line 1: If we died with him, we will also live with him. This clearly mirrors Romans 6:8 (cf. Col. 2:20; 3:1), and there is no reason to think that it means anything different here from what it does there. Using baptismal imagery, Paul is reflecting again on Christian conversion as a dying and rising with Christ. The future, we will also live with him, has primarily to do with life in Christ in the present (as it does in Rom. 6:8–11), although such language always has latent in it the thought of the eschatological fulfillment yet to be realized. After all, the present life with him is the result of his resurrection, the primary eschatological event that has already set the future in motion.
In the present context, however, the language of dying and living in Christ is perhaps also to be heard with the broader implications of Christian martyrdom. What was true figuratively at one’s baptism would also be true of a “baptism” of another kind. One might well guess that the implication of this was not lost on Timothy.
Line 2: If we endure, we will also reign with him. This line is the basic reason, along with its warning counterpart in line 3, for citing the saying. It speaks directly to the concern throughout the whole appeal (1:6–2:13) that Timothy remain loyal, even in the face of suffering. The verb to endure, although it clearly implies persevering, is especially used by nt writers of holding one’s ground patiently in trouble or affliction (cf. Mark 13:13; Rom. 12:12). That is certainly the sense here.
The apodosis also speaks directly to the context, namely, the promise of the eschatological victory alluded to in the three analogies in verses 4–6. To reign with Christ is a Pauline way of expressing the “eternal glory” that awaits those who are faithful to the end (cf. 1 Cor. 4:8; cf. also Rev. 3:21).
Line 3: If we disown [lit., “shall disown”] him, he will also disown us. With this line there is a shift to negative actions of believers. The content stands in clear contrast to line 2 as its opposite. Therefore, it also almost certainly presupposes the context of suffering and persecution (i.e., “being ashamed” of Christ in the time of trial). Thus it is both warning—to Timothy and “the elect” (v. 10; hence the future tense) and judgment—on those such as the Asians of 1:15 who have already deserted.
The language of this line precisely reflects the saying of Jesus found in Matthew 10:33 (par. Luke 12:9). Thus the subject in the apodosis changes from “we” to an emphatic he (Gk. demonstrative pronoun, “that one”).
Lines 2 and 3 together, therefore, form the basic reason for the citation: promise and warning attached to a call for endurance in the face of suffering and hardship.
Line 4: If we are faithless, he will remain faithful (cf. Rom. 3:3). This line is full of surprises, and it is also the one for which sharp differences of opinion exist regarding its interpretation. Some see it as a negative, corresponding to line 3. If we are faithless (i.e., if we commit apostasy), God must be faithful to himself and mete out judgment. Although such an understanding is possible, it seems highly improbable that this is what Paul himself intended. After all, that could have been said plainly. The lack of a future verb with the adverb “also,” as well as the fact that God’s faithfulness in the nt is always in behalf of his people, also tend to speak out against this view.
What seems to have happened is that, in a rather typical way (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 8:3), Paul could not bring himself to finish a sentence as it began. It is possible for us to prove faithless; but Paul could not possibly say that God would then be faithless toward us. Indeed, quite the opposite. If we are faithless (and the context demands this meaning of the verb apistoumen, not “unbelieving,” as kjv, et al.), this does not in any way affect God’s own faithfulness to his people. This can mean either that God will override our infidelity with his grace (as most commentators) or that his overall faithfulness to his gracious gift of eschatological salvation for his people is not negated by the faithlessness of some. This latter seems more in keeping with Paul and the immediate context. Some have proved faithless, but God’s saving faithfulness has not been diminished thereby. So Timothy and the people should continue to endure that they might also reign with him. Thus all four lines cohere as an exposition of “the salvation that comes through Christ Jesus and brings eternal glory” (v. 10).
The final coda simply explains why the final apodosis stands as it does: because he cannot disown himself. To do so would mean that God had ceased to be. Hence eschatological salvation is for Paul ultimately rooted in the character of God.
With this great affirmation, in the context of equally severe warning, this first appeal to loyalty comes to a conclusion. The defections in Asia, the warnings in this text, plus the raising of his sights in verse 10 to include “the elect,” all coalesce to turn Paul’s attention one final time to the false teachers (see 1 Tim. 1:3–11, 18–20; 4:1–5; 6:3–10) and Timothy’s responsibilities (2:14–3:9).
The Song Of The Martyr
2 Timothy 2:11–13
This is a saying which can be relied upon:
If we die with him,
we shall also live with him.
If we endure,
we shall also reign with him.
If we deny him,
he too will deny us.
If we are faithless,
he remains faithful
For he cannot deny himself.
This is A particularly precious passage because in it is enshrined one of the first hymns of the Christian Church. In the days of persecution, the Christian Church put its faith into song. It may be that this is only a fragment of a longer hymn. Polycarp (To the Philippians, 5:2) seems to give us a little more of it when he writes: ‘If we please Christ in the present world, we shall inherit the world to come; as he has promised to raise us from the dead, and has said:
“If we walk worthily of him,
So shall we reign with him.” ’
There are two possible interpretations of the first two lines—‘If we die with him, we shall also live with him.’ There are those who want to take these lines as a reference to baptism. In Romans 6, baptism is likened to dying and rising with Christ. ‘Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.’ ‘But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him’ (Romans 6:4, 6:8). No doubt the language is the same; but the thought of baptism is quite irrelevant here; it is the thought of martyrdom that is in Paul’s mind. Martin Luther, in a great phrase, said: ‘Ecclesia haeres crucis est’, ‘The Church is the heir of the cross.’ Christians inherit Christ’s cross, but they also inherit Christ’s resurrection. They are partners both in the shame and in the glory of their Lord.
The hymn goes on: ‘If we endure, we shall also reign with him.’ It is the one who endures to the end who will be saved. Without the cross, there cannot be the crown.
Then comes the other side of the matter: ‘If we deny him, he too will deny us.’ That is what Jesus himself said: ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 10:32–3). Jesus Christ cannot vouch in eternity for someone who has refused to have anything to do with him in time; but he is always true to those who, however much they have failed, have tried to be true to him.
These things are so because they are part of the very nature of God. We may deny ourselves, but God cannot. ‘God is not a human being that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind’ (Numbers 23:19). God will never fail those who have tried to be true to him; but not even he can help someone who has refused to have anything to do with him.
Long ago in the third century, the Church father Tertullian said: ‘The man who is afraid to suffer cannot belong to him who suffered’ (De Fuga, 14). Jesus died to be true to the will of God; and Christians must follow that same will, whatever light may shine or shadow fall.
2:11. This saying is faithful; for,
if we died with him, we shall also live with him …
Paul here introduces one more ‘faithful’ saying (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9). These sayings, as we have seen, were commonly-known expressions in the early church. The structure of verses 11b–13 suggests that this was an early church hymn or confession, as does the constant repetition of the pronoun ‘we’. These verses contain four lines, each beginning with a conditional clause (‘if …’). The first three ‘then’ clauses (apodoses, or main clauses), all contain the word ‘also’. The verbs in the ‘if’ clauses move from past to present to future, and back to present again. The fourth and final line contains an added explanatory clause, indicating that it is the climactic thought in the confession. As a whole, this ‘faithful saying’ expounds on the believer’s union with Christ and its results. Paul employs it here no doubt to pick up on the theme of ‘enduring’ from verse 10 and to encourage Timothy and the church to faithfulness.
The word ‘for’ has caused interpreters some consternation and has led many to suggest that the faithful saying is what has just been said and that verses 11–13 are explanatory. But the rhythmic and confessional nature of these verses suggests otherwise. ‘For’ most likely indicates that what follows is the basis for Paul’s earlier instructions to suffer hardship and to endure.
The first line begins, ‘If we died with him …’ Some have taken this as a reference to martyrdom, which would fit the larger context. But the past tense seems to point to the believer’s death with Christ at conversion, sometimes linked to baptism (Gal. 2:19–20; Rom. 6:3–8; 2 Cor. 5:14). The phrase, ‘we shall also live with him’, is difficult to interpret with certainty. It could refer to the believer’s present life ‘in Christ’, or it could refer to future resurrection. Either way, the point is the certainty of new life with Christ, both now and into eternity.
11–13. Let the Reader particularly attend to the statement here made, for it is most blessed. Here is a presupposed case, the child of God is dead with Christ. And so he is. For by regeneration he is brought forth into spiritual life, proving thereby his being chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world. Ephes. 1:4, 5. And redeemed by Christ, as a member of his mystical body, Ephes. 1:7. And, regenerated by the Holy Ghost, he is quickened to a new and spiritual life in Christ. Hence he is dead with Christ. For when Christ was crucified, all his members were crucified with him. Gal. 2:20. When Christ died; he died, not in a private capacity, but publicly, as the head of his body the Church whom he represented as their Surety; and consequently each member in the eye of the law, died with him. Coloss. 3:3. So that from that moment the whole body of Christ is dead, in a legal sense to a covenant of works. And therefore it must follow, that as in him they were all crucified, and died; so they are equally from their oneness with him, interested in his life. And, oh! what a faithful saying this is?
Some of God’s children have been not a little alarmed, at what is said of the Lord’s denying them if they deny him. As if Christ’s love of his people depended upon their love of him. But blessed be God! our love of Christ forms no standard for his love of us. 1 John 4:19. It is not the weakness and infirmity of Christ’s dear children, in their daily frail and imperfect walk of faith that is here alluded to, which may truly be said to be a denial of Christ. For when I doubt his word, or call his providences or his promises in question, no doubt that these things proceed from unbelief. Such was the case of the Church. Isaiah, 49:14; Lament. 3:18. But this is not the denial the Apostle had in contemplation. The apostacy of hypocrites, and the false profession of those who call themselves christians, which are so only in name, who deny Christ’s Godhead, redemption by his blood, and the works of the Spirit; these, with others of a like nature, are the points Paul had in view, when speaking of the denial of Christ, which calls for his denial of us. And beyond all question, such denials must be followed with destruction. For so Christ hath said. Matt. 10:32, 33; Mark 8:38.
But what a sweet relief is the following verse, to comfort the feeble minded who would rather die than intentionally deny Christ: If we believe not yet he abideth faithful, he cannot deny himself. Reader! cherish the blessed assurance, for it is most blessed. God’s faithfulness doth not depend upon man’s belief. His yea, and Amen, are founded in himself, and not in our improvement. It is indeed blessed and refreshing to the soul, when a regenerated child of God enjoys those love-tokens of God in Christ, by the lively actings of faith upon him. But the Lord’s grace is not founded in human merit; and therefore depends not upon human improvement. Oh! the preciousness of an unchangeable God’s purposes in Christ. Jer. 32:40; Heb. 6:16, to the end.
Ver. 11.—Faithful is the saying for it is a faithful saying, A.V.; died for be dead, A.V. Died; i.e. in baptism (Rom. 6:8), as denoted by the aorist. But the death with Christ in baptism is conceived of as carrying with it, as a consequence, the daily death of which St. Paul speaks so often (Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 15:31; 2 Cor. 4:10), as well as the death to sin.
11. A faithful saying. He makes a preface to the sentiment which he is about to utter; because nothing is more opposite to the feeling of the flesh, than that we must die in order to live, and that death is the entrance into life; for we may gather from other passages, that Paul was wont to make use of a preface of this sort, in matters of great importance, or hard to be believed.
If we die with him, we shall also live with him. The general meaning is, that we shall not be partakers of the life and glory of Christ, unless we have previously died and been humbled with him; as he says, that all the elect were “predestinated that they might be conformed to his image.” (Rom. 8:29.) This is said both for exhorting and comforting believers. Who is not excited by this exhortation, that we ought not to be distressed on account of our afflictions, which shall have so happy a result? The same consideration abates and sweetens all that is bitter in the cross; because neither pains, nor tortures, nor reproaches, nor death ought to be received by us with horror, since in these we share with Christ; more especially seeing that all these things are the forerunners of a triumph.
By his example, therefore, Paul encourages all believers to receive joyfully, for the name of Christ, those afflictions in which they already have a taste of future glory. If this shocks our belief, and if the cross itself so overpowers and dazzles our eyes, that we do not perceive Christ in them, let us remember to present this shield. “It is a faithful saying.” And, indeed, where Christ is present, we must acknowledge that life and happiness are there. We ought, therefore, to believe firmly, and to impress deeply on our hearts, this fellowship, that we do not die apart, but along with Christ, in order that we may afterwards have life in common with him; that we suffer with him, in order that we may be partakers of his glory. By death he means all that outward mortification of which he speaks in 2 Cor. 4:10.
11. Another trustworthy saying is added at this juncture, at least if we follow the majority of commentators and attach the formula to what follows. Some have attempted to apply it to the antecedent passage but not convincingly (see Spicq for details). There is so marked a rhythmic pattern in the words that follow, that it must be considered more natural to attach the formula to verses 11–13. A difficulty occurs in the inclusion in the first line of the conjunction gar (for), which niv and rsv It would seem that some back reference is involved, but the explanation may be that part only of the original hymn has been preserved, and that the antecedent is therefore now lost. Most scholars agree that the words here are derived from a Christian hymn, although there is dispute among some scholars whether all of the words are authentic. Since the words form a rhythmic pattern there is no reason to regard them as anything other than a unity.
The connection of thought between the hymn and the preceding passage may possibly be found in the idea of glory. There are great things to look forward to in Christian experience even if hardship is the present lot. Some have seen in this hymn an encouragement to martyrdom (cf. Bernard), but the alternative view which holds that ‘baptismal death’ is in mind is much more likely (cf. Jeremias). This is confirmed by the close connection between this passage and Romans 6:8, in which baptism is used to illustrate the union between the exalted Lord and the believer. The idea is therefore in complete accord with Pauline thought, and seems to be brought in here to illustrate the worthwhileness of enduring everything for the sake of the elect (verse 10).
The tense of the verb translated we died with him (synapothnēskō) indicates that a past event is in view; and if this event was the moment of baptism, the apostle is reminding himself and Timothy of that experience of identification with Christ which forms the basis of Christian living and hence of Christian courage and endurance.
Our common Christian experience (verses 11–13)
Paul now quotes a current saying or fragment of an early Christian hymn which he pronounces reliable. It consists of two pairs of epigrams, which are general axioms of Christian life and experience. They apply equally to all believers. The first pair relates to those who remain true and endure, the second pair to those who become false and faithless.
‘If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
if we endure, we shall also reign with him’ (11b, 12a).
The death with Christ which is here mentioned must refer, according to the context, not to our death to sin through union with Christ in his death, but rather to our death to self and to safety, as we take up the cross and follow Christ. The former Paul describes in Romans 6:3 (‘do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?’); the latter he expresses both in 1 Corinthians 15:31 (‘I die every day’) and in 2 Corinthians 4:10 (‘always carrying in the body the death of Jesus’). That this is the meaning in the hymn fragments seems plain from the fact that to ‘have died with Christ’ and to ‘endure’ are parallel expressions.
So the Christian life is depicted as a life of dying, a life of enduring. Only if we share Christ’s death on earth, shall we share his life in heaven. Only if we share his sufferings and endure, shall we share his reign in the hereafter. For the road to life is death, and the road to glory suffering (cf. Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 4:17).
‘If we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself’ (12b, 13).
This other pair of epigrams envisages the dreadful possibility of our denying Christ and proving faithless. The first phrase ‘if we deny him, he also will deny us’ seems to be an echo of our Lord’s own warning: ‘whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven’ (Mt. 10:33).
What then of the second phrase ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful’? It has often been taken as a comforting assurance that, even if we turn away from Christ, he will not turn away from us, for he will never be faithless as we are. And it is true, of course, that God never exhibits the fickleness or the faithlessness of man. Yet the logic of the Christian hymn, with its two pairs of balancing epigrams, really demands a different interpretation. ‘If we deny him’ and ‘if we are faithless’ are parallels, which requires that ‘he will deny us’ and ‘he remains faithful’ be parallels also. In this case his ‘faithfulness’ when we are faithless will be faithfulness to his warnings. As William Hendriksen puts it: ‘Faithfulness on his part means carrying out his threats … as well as his promises.’1 So he will deny us, as the earlier epigram asserts. Indeed, if he did not deny us (in faithfulness to his plain warnings), he would then deny himself. But one thing is certain about God beyond any doubt or uncertainty whatever, and that is ‘he cannot deny himself’.
The idea that there may be something which God ‘cannot’ do is entirely foreign to some people. Can he not do anything and everything? Are not all things possible to him? Is he not omnipotent? Yes, but God’s omnipotence needs to be understood. God is not a totalitarian tyrant that he should exercise his power arbitrarily and do absolutely anything whatsoever. God’s omnipotence is the freedom and the power to do absolutely anything he chooses to do. But he chooses only to do good, only to work according to the perfection of his character and will. God can do everything consistent with being himself. The one and only thing he cannot do, because he will not, is to deny himself or act contrary to himself. So God remains for ever himself, the same God of mercy and of justice, fulfilling his promises (whether of blessing or of judgment), giving us life if we die with Christ and a kingdom if we endure, but denying us if we deny him, just as he warned, because he cannot deny himself.
Looking back over the first half of this chapter (verses 1 to 13), the apostle Paul seems to have been hammering home a single lesson. From secular analogy (soldiers, athletes, farmers) and from spiritual experience (Christ’s, his own, every Christian’s) he has been insisting that blessing comes through pain, fruit through toil, life through death, and glory through suffering. It is an invariable law of Christian life and service.
So why should we expect things to be easy for us or promise an easy time to others? Neither human wisdom nor divine revelation gives us such an expectation. Why then do we deceive ourselves and others? The truth is the reverse, namely ‘no pains, no gains’ or ‘no cross, no crown’.
It is this principle which took Jesus Christ through a lowly birth and a shameful death to his glorious resurrection and heavenly reign. It is this principle which had brought Paul his chains and prison cell, in order that the elect might obtain salvation and glory. It is the same principle which makes the soldier willing to endure hardship, the athlete discipline and the farmer toil. It would be ridiculous, therefore, to expect our Christian life and service to cost us nothing.
In the second part of 2 Timothy 2 (verses 14–26), Paul continues his vivid portrayal of Timothy in his role of teaching and transmitting the faith, and therefore by derivation of every Christian minister, teacher or worker. He now uses three more metaphors—the ‘workman who has no need to be ashamed’ (15), the ‘vessel for noble use’ (21) and ‘the Lord’s servant’ (24). Each adds a further feature to the portrait.
Vers. 11, 12 If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him.
Union with Christ in death and life:—I. The first branch of this “faithful saying” is, “If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him.” There seem to be two ways chiefly in which the soul “is dead with Christ.” If we look at the operation of the law as a manifestation of the justice of God, the law was the cause of the death of Christ—that is to say, the law being broken by the Church in whose place Christ stood, He, as a Substitute and a Surety, stood under its curse, and that curse was death. If, then, we are to die with Christ, we must die under the law just as Jesus died under the law, or else there is no union with Christ in His death. But further, Christ died under the weight of sin and transgression. Every living soul then that shall die with Christ spiritually and experimentally, must die too under the weight of sin—that is, he must know what it is so to experience the power and presence of sin in his carnal mind, so to feel the burden of his iniquities upon his guilty head, and to be so overcome and overpowered by inward transgression, as to be utterly helpless, and thoroughly unable to deliver himself from the dominion and rule of it in his heart. But there is another way in which the soul dies with Christ. Christ not only died under the law and died under sin, but He died unto the law, and He died unto sin. But in living with Christ, there will be, if I may use the expression, a dying life, or a living death, running parallel with all the experience of a child of God, who is brought to some acquaintance with the Lord Jesus. For instance, the apostle says, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” II. But we go on to consider another branch of this vital union with Christ. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” There can be no suffering with Christ, until there is a vital union with Christ; and no realisation of it, until the Holy Ghost manifests this vital union by making Christ known, and raising up faith in our hearts, whereby He is embraced and laid hold of. And there is no “reigning with Christ,” except there first be a “suffering with Christ.” I believe that reigning not only signifies a reigning with Him in glory hereafter, but also a measure of reigning with Him now, by His enthroning Himself in our hearts. III. “If we deny Him, He also will deny us,” that is the next branch. The words have a twofold meaning; they apply to professors, and they apply to possessors. There were those in the Church who would deny Him, for there were those who never knew Him experimentally, and when the trial came, they would act as Judas acted. And then there were those who were real followers of Him, but when put to the test might act as Peter acted. (J. C. Philpot.)
Christ and the Christian:—In matters of great worth and difficulty prefaces are used: so here. Whence observe we, that—
- Afflictions are not easy to be endured,
- God’s Word is faithful.
III. Christ and a Christian are fellow-sufferers.
- Christ and a Christian shall live together. (J. Barlow, D.D.)
Dead with Christ:—In the fourth century a young earnest disciple sought an interview with the great and good Macarius, and asked him what was meant by being dead to sin. He said, “You remember our brother who died and was buried a short time since. Go to his grave, and tell him all the unkind things you ever heard of him. Go, my son, and hear what he will answer.” The young man doubted whether he understood; but Macarius only said, “Do as I tell you, my son; and come and tell me what he says.” He went, and came back, saying, “I can get no reply; he is dead.” “Go again, and try him with flattering words—tell him what a great saint he was, what noble work he did, and how we miss him; and come again and tell me what he says.” He did so, but on his return said, “He answers nothing, father; he is dead and buried.” “You know now, my son,” said the old father, “what it is to be dead to sin, dead and buried with Christ. Praise and blame are nothing to him who is really dead and buried with Christ.” (Christian Herald.)
Dead with Christ:—“Believe, my dear Pris, what I am just beginning to learn, and you knew long ago, that the death of Christ is far, very far, more than a mere peace-making, though that view of it is the root of every other. But it is actually and literally the death of you and me and the whole human race; the absolute death and extinction of all our selfishness and individuality. So St. Paul describes it in Rom. 6 and in every one of his Epistles. Let us believe, then, what is the truth and no lie—that we are dead, actually, absolutely dead; and let us believe further that we are risen and that we have each a life, our only life, a life not of you nor me, but a universal life—in Him. He will live in us and quicken us with all life and all love; will make us understand the possibility, and, as I am well convinced, experience the reality, of loving God and loving our brethren.” (F. D. Maurice to his sister.)
Suffering and reigning with Jesus:—
- Suffering with Jesus, and its reward. To suffer is the common lot of all men. It is not possible for us to escape from it. We come into this world through the gate of suffering, and over death’s door hangs the same escutcheon. If, then, a man hath sorrow, it doth not necessarily follow that he shall be rewarded for it, since it is the common lot brought upon all by sin. You may smart under the lashes of sorrow in this life, but this shall not deliver you from the wrath to come. The text implies most clearly that we must suffer with Christ in order to reign with Him. 1. We must not imagine that we are suffering for Christ, and with Christ, if we are not in Christ. 2. Supposing a man to be in Christ, yet it does not even then follow that all his sufferings are sufferings with Christ, for it is essential that he be called by God to suffer. If a good man were, out of mistaken views of mortification and self-denial, to mutilate his body, or to flog his flesh, as many a sincere enthusiast has done, I might admire the man’s fortitude, but I should not allow for an instant that he was suffering with Christ. 3. Again, in troubles which come upon us as the result of sin, we must not think we are suffering with Christ. When Miriam spoke evil of Moses, and the leprosy polluted her, she was not suffering for God. When Uzziah thrust himself into the temple, and became a leper all his days, he could not say that he was afflicted for righteousness’ sake. If you speculate and lose your property, do not say that you are losing all for Christ’s sake; when you unite with bubble companies and are duped, do not whine about suffering for Christ—call it the fruit of your own folly. If you will put your hand into the fire and it gets burned, why, it is the nature of fire to burn you or anybody else; but be not so silly as to boast as though you were a martyr. 4. Be it observed, moreover, that suffering such as God accepts and rewards for Christ’s sake, must have God’s glory as its end. 5. I must mind, too, that love to Christ, and love to His elect, is ever the main-spring of all my patience; remembering the apostle’s words, “Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” 6. I must not forget also that I must manifest the spirit of Christ, or else I do not suffer with Him. I have heard of a certain minister who, having had a great disagreement with many members in his church, preached from this text, “And Aaron held his peace.” The sermon was intended to pourtray himself as an astonishing instance of meekness; but as his previous words and actions had been quite sufficiently violent, a witty hearer observed, that the only likeness he could see between Aaron and the preacher was this, “Aaron held his peace, and the preacher did not.” I shall now very briefly show what are the forms of real suffering for Jesus in these days. (1) Some suffer in their estates. I believe that to many Christians it is rather a gain than a loss, so far as pecuniary matters go, to be believers in Christ; but I meet with many cases—cases which I know to be genuine, where persons have had to suffer severely for conscience’ sake. (2) More usually, however, the suffering takes the form of personal contempt. (3) Believers have also to suffer slander and falsehood. (4) Then again, if in your service for Christ you are enabled so to sacrifice yourself, that you bring upon yourself inconvenience and pain, labour and loss, then I think you are suffering with Christ. (5) Let us not forget that contention with inbred lusts, denials of proud self, resistance of sin, and agony against Satan, are all forms of suffering with Christ. (6) There is one more class of suffering which I shall mention, and that is, when friends forsake, or become foes. If you are thus called to suffer for Christ, will you quarrel with me if I say, in adding all up, what a very little it is compared with reigning with Jesus! “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” When I contrast our sufferings of to-day with those of the reign of Mary, or the persecutions of the Albigenses on the mountains, or the sufferings of Christians in Pagan Rome, why, ours are scarcely a pin’s prick: and yet what is the reward? We shall reign with Christ. There is no comparison between the service and the reward. Therefore it is all of grace. We are not merely to sit with Christ, but we are to reign with Christ.
- Denying Christ, and its penalty. “If we deny Him, He also will deny us,” In what way can we deny Christ? Some deny Him openly as scoffers do, whose tongue walketh through the earth and defieth heaven. Others do this wilfully and wickedly in a doctrinal way, as the Arians and Socinians do, who deny His deity: those who deny His atonement, who rail against the inspiration of His Word, these come under the condemnation of those who deny Christ. There is a way of denying Christ without even speaking a word, and this is the more common. In the day of blasphemy and rebuke, many hide their heads. Are there not here some who have been baptized, and who come to the Lord’s table, but what is their character? Follow them home. I would to God they never had made a profession, because in their own houses they deny what in the house of God they have avowed. In musing over the very dreadful sentence which closes my text, “He also will deny us,” I was led to think of various ways in which Jesus will deny us. He does this sometimes on earth. You have read, I suppose, the death of Francis Spira. If you have ever read it, you never can forget it to your dying day. Francis Spira knew the truth; he was a reformer of no mean standing; but when brought to death, out of fear, he recanted. In a short time he fell into despair, and suffered hell upon earth. His shrieks and exclamations were so horrible that their record is almost too terrible for print. His doom was a warning to the age in which he lived. Another instance is narrated by my predecessor, Benjamin Keach, of one who, during Puritanic times, was very earnest for Puritanism; but afterwards, when times of persecution arose, forsook his profession. The scenes at his deathbed were thrilling and terrible. He declared that though he sought God, heaven was shut against him; gates of brass seemed to be in his way, he was given up to overwhelming despair. At intervals he cursed, at other intervals he prayed, and so perished without hope. If we deny Christ, we may be delivered to such a fate. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Deniers of Christ:—
- Difficult duties are greatly to be pressed.
- To conceive the estate of a Christian is to have an eye to his latter end.
III. God’s method and the devil’s differ. He begins with death, ends with life: but Satan the contrary.
- Christ is not to be denied.
- The deniers of Christ shall be denied. Helps against this sin—1. Deny thyself. 2. Never dispute with flesh and blood. 3. Look not on death as death: but on God’s power, which is manifest in our weakness. 4. Consider the examples of so many martyrs. (J. Barlow, D.D.)
The encouragement to suffer for Christ, and the danger of denying Him:—“It is a faithful saying.” This is a preface used by this apostle to introduce some remarkable sentence of more than ordinary weight and concernment. I shall begin with the first part of this remarkable saying: “If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” 1. What virtue there is in a firm belief and persuasion of a blessed immortality in another world, to support and bear up men’s spirits under the greatest sufferings for righteousness’ sake; and even to animate them, if God shall call them to it, to lay down their lives for their religion. 2. How it may be made out to be reasonable to embrace and voluntarily to submit to present and grievous sufferings, in hopes of future happiness and reward; concerning which we have not, nor perhaps are capable of having, the same degree of certainty and assurance which we have of the evils and sufferings of this present life. Now, granting that we have not the same degree of certainty concerning our future happiness that we have of our present sufferings, which we feel, or see just ready to come upon us; yet prudence making it necessary for men to run this hazard does justify the reasonableness of it. This I take to be a known and ruled case in the common affairs of life and in matters of temporal concernment; and men act upon this principle every day. The matter is now brought to this plain issue, that if it be reasonable to believe there is a God, and that His providence considers the actions of men; it is also reasonable to endure present sufferings, in hope of a future reward: and there is certainly enough in this case to govern and determine a prudent man that is in any good measure persuaded of another life after this, and hath any tolerable consideration of, and regard to, his eternal interest. In the virtue of this belief and persuasion, the primitive Christians were fortified against all that the malice and cruelty of the world could do against them; and they thought they made a very wise bargain, if through many tribulations they might at last enter into the kingdom of God; because they believed that the joys of heaven would abundantly recompense all their sorrows and sufferings upon earth. And so confident were they of this, that they looked upon it as a special favour and regard of God to them, to call them to suffer for His name. So St. Paul speaks of it (Phil. 1:29). If we could compare things justly, and attentively regard and consider the invisible glories of another world, as well as the things which are seen, we should easily perceive that he who suffers for God and religion does not renounce happiness; but puts it out to interest upon terms of the greatest advantage. I shall now briefly speak to the second part of this remarkable saying in the text. “If we deny Him, He also will deny us”; to which is subjoined in the words following, “if we believe not; εἰ ἀπιστοῦμεν, if we deal unfaithfully with Him; yet He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself”; that is, He will be constant to His word, and make good that solemn threatening which He hath denounced against those who, for fear of suffering, shall deny Him and His truth before men (Matt. 10:33). If fear will move us, then, in all reason, that which is most terrible ought to prevail most with us, and the greatest danger should be most dreaded by us, according to our Saviour’s most friendly and reasonable advice (Luke 12:4, 5.) (J. Tillotson, D.D.) If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.
Suffering with Christ:—In the olden time when the gospel was preached in Persia, one Hamedatha, a courtier of the king, having embraced the faith, was stripped of all his offices, driven from the palace, and compelled to feed camels. This he did with great content. The king passing by one day, saw his former favourite at his ignoble work, cleaning out the camel’s stables. Taking pity upon him he took him into his palace, clothed him with sumptuous apparel, restored him to all his former honours, and made him sit at the royal table. In the midst of the dainty feast, he asked Hamedatha to renounce his faith. The courtier, rising from the table, tore off his garments with haste, left all the dainties behind him, and said, “Didst thou think that for such silly things as these I would deny my Lord and Master?” and away he went to the stable to his ignoble work. How honourable is all this! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ’s martyrs:—Christ’s true martyrs do not die, but live. (E. Thring.)
Ennobled in death:—Henry V. on the evening of Agincourt found the chivalric David Gamm still grasping the banner which through the fight his strength had borne and his right arm defended. Often had the monarch noticed that pennon waving in the foremost van of the men of England who that day pierced, broke, and routed the proud ranks of France. The king knighted him as he lay. The hero died, but dying was ennobled!” (S. Coley.)
Cyril, the boy martyr:—Let me tell you of a young soldier of His, who bore much for his Lord. We must go back to the early days of Christianity, and picture a martyr being led to death in the city of Antioch. At the place of execution is the judge surrounded by a guard of soldiers. The man about to die for his love to his heavenly King says to the judge—“Ask any little child here whether we ought to adore the many false gods whom you serve, or the one living and true God, the only Saviour of men, and that child will tell you.” Close by there stood a Christian mother and her boy of ten years old named Cyril. She had brought her son there to see how a true servant of God could die for his Lord. As the martyr spoke, the judge spied the lad, and asked him a question. To the surprise of all, Cyril answered—“There is but one God, and Jesus Christ is one with Him.” At these words the judge was very angry. “Wretched Christian,” he said, turning to the martyr, “it is thou who hast taught the boy these words.” Then more gently, he said to the child—“Tell me, who taught thee this faith?” Little Cyril looked lovingly up to his mother, and answered, “The grace of God taught my mother, and she taught me.” “Well, we will see what this grace of God can do for thee,” cried the judge. He signed to the guards, who, according to the custom of the Romans, stood with their sheaves of rods. They came near and seized the child. Passionately the mother pleaded that she might give her life for that of her son. But none heeded her entreaties. And all that she could do was to cheer her child, reminding him of the Lord who loved him and died for him. Then cruel strokes fell upon the bare little shoulders of Cyril. In a tone of mocking, the judge said—“What good is the grace of God to him now?” “It can enable him to bear the same punishment which his Saviour bore for him,” answered the mother decidedly. One look from the judge to the soldiers, and again the cruel blows fell on the tender flesh of the boy. “What can the grace of God do for him now?” again asked the pitiless judge. Few of the spectators could hear unmoved the mother, who, with heart bleeding at the sight of her boy’s sufferings, answered—“The grace of God teaches him to forgive his persecutors.” The child’s eyes followed the upward glance of his mother, as she raised her pleading for him in earnest prayer. And when his persecutors asked whether he would not now worship the gods they did, that young soldier answered—“No, there is no other God but the Lord, and Jesus is the Redeemer of the world. He loved me, and I love Him, because He is my Saviour.” Stroke after stroke fell upon the boy, and at last he fell fainting. Then he was handed to his mother, and the question was once more repeated: “What can the grace of God do for him now?” Pressing her dying child to her heart, she answered—“Now above all, the grace of God will bring him gain and glory, for He will take him from the rage of his persecutors to the peace of His own home in heaven.” Once more the dying boy looked up and said, “There is only one God, and one Saviour, Jesus Christ—who—loved—me.” And then the Lord Jesus received him in His arms for evermore. The boy martyr went in to be with his King, that Saviour “who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
Suffering for Christ rewarded:—Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, once expressed a desire that his friend Caligula might soon come to the throne. Old Tiberius, the reigning monarch, felt such a wish, however flattering to Caligula, to be so little kindly to himself, that he threw the author of it into a loathsome dungeon. But the very day Caligula reached Imperial power, Agrippa was released. The new emperor gave him purple for his rags, tetrarchies for his narrow cell, and carefully weighing the gyves that fettered him, for every link of iron bestowed on him one of gold. Think you that day Agrippa wished his handcuffs and his leg-locks had been lighter? Will Jesus forget the wellwishers of His kingdom, who, for His sake, have borne the burden and worn the chain? His scales will be forthcoming, and assuredly those faithful in great tribulation shall be beautified with greater glory. (S. Coley.)
Happy ending of a suffering life:—We have sometimes watched a ship entering the harbour with masts sprung, sails torn, seams yawning, bulwarks stove in—bearing all the marks of having battled with the storms, and of having encountered many a peril. On the deck is a crew of worn and weather-beaten men, rejoicing that they have reached the port in safety. Such was the plight in which many believers of old reached the haven of rest. They met with dangers and encountered difficulties. But if their course was toilsome, their end was happy. It was their joy to labour and suffer for their Lord’s sake, and they are now sharing His kingdom and His glory. (Bp. Oxenden.) If we deny Him, He also will deny us.—Denying Christ:—There are many ways of denying Christ, both by word and action. We may take the part of His enemies, or ignore His supreme claim to our allegiance; we may transform Him into a myth, a fairy tale, a subjective principle, or find a substitute in our own life for His grace; and we may assume that He is not the ground of our reconciliation, nor the giver of salvation, nor the sole Head of His Church. If so, we may reasonably fear, lest He should refuse to acknowledge us when upon His approval our eternal destiny will turn. (H. R. Reynolds, D.D.)
2:11 “if” This is the last of the five “trustworthy statements” in the Pastoral Letters (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; Titus 3:8). This one appears to be a quote from a creed or hymn.
- a series of four “if” clauses (FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCES, cf. vv. 11, 12, 13 twice)
- the first two are positive; the last two are negative
- the third and fourth clauses have an extra line
© “we died with Him” This is one of several syn compounds in II Timothy. It speaks of the biblical metaphor of baptism by immersion (cf. Rom. 6:1–11; Gal. 2:20). This exact form only occurs here, in Mark 14:31 and 2 Cor. 7:3.
© “we shall live with Him” This is another rare syn compound (cf. Rom. 6:8; 2 Cor. 7:3). This refers to the believers’ confidence of sustained fellowship with Jesus, not only now by faith but one day (and every day) face to face.
The first three “if” clauses end in FUTURE TENSE VERBS which assume an eschatological (i.e. end time) setting. The entire NT has this same already-but-not-yet tension. The kingdom of God has come (inaugurated) in Jesus but it has not been consummated. Believers experience many aspects of the Kingdom now, but others are reserved for the Second Coming.
© “if we endure” This grammatical construction (FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE) assumes believers will persevere.
11–13. Accordingly, Paul is willing to endure all things—hardship even to bonds, with the prospect of death—in order that through his steadfast ministry the elect may obtain their full, everlasting, Christ-centered salvation (see verses 3, 9, 10). It is necessary to keep this connection in mind. Otherwise what follows may be misinterpreted.
In harmony with what the apostle has just stated, he now introduces the fourth of five “reliable sayings” (see on 1 Tim. 1:15). The opinion that the lines which he quotes were taken from an early Christian hymn, a cross-bearer’s or martyr’s hymn, is probably correct. It is evident that he does not quote the entire hymn (unless γάρ here is not “for”; but in the present case “for” is probably right). Now, the word “for” indicates that in the hymn something preceded. The probability is that the unquoted line which preceded was something like, “We shall remain faithful to our Lord even to death,” or, “We have resigned ourselves to reproach and suffering and even to death for Christ’s sake.” In either case the next line, the first one quoted by Paul, could then be: “For, if we have died with (him), we shall also live with (him).” Note that this feature of the quotation is similar to that which we encountered in connection with the lines quoted in 1 Tim. 3:16. Also in that case something that was not quoted must have preceded the quoted portion. In that case the line which presumably immediately preceded the beginning of the quotation probably ended with the word Logos or Christos or Theos (see on that passage).
Here in 2 Tim. 2:11–13, after the introductory formula (explained in connection with 1 Tim. 3:16):
Reliable is the saying,
the quoted lines are as follows:
For if we have died with (him), we shall also live with (him);
if we endure, we shall also reign with (him);
if we shall deny (him), he on his part will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he on his part remains faithful.
In the first two lines the if-clause describes the attitude-and action which proceeds from loyalty to Christ: we have died with (him), we endure (remain steadfast). In the last two lines the if-clause describes the attitude-and-action which proceeds from disloyalty.
The first two lines are clearly illustrations of synthetic or constructive parallelism. They do not express an identical thought, but there is progressive correspondence between the two propositions. As to the if-clauses, the persons who are assumed to have died with Christ are also the ones who endure, being faithful to death. And as to the conclusions, not only will such persons live with Christ, but they will also reign with him. These two go together. Note that in all the four clauses of these two lines the subject is we (“we … we …; we … we”).
The last two lines, describing the course of disloyalty, differ in form from the first two. Here we have not “we … we,” but twice “we … he.” In the third line (“If we shall deny him, he on his part will also deny us”), the conclusion is the expected one (just as in lines one and two). In the fourth line, however, the conclusion comes as somewhat of a surprise. It takes careful reflection before we realize that the surprising conclusion is, after all, the only possible one. Once we grasp its meaning, we understand that also lines three and four express a parallel thought, and are illustrations of synthetic parallelism.
Before a detailed analysis of these four lines is attempted, it should be stressed that taken as a whole they convey one main thought, namely, Loyalty to Christ, steadfastness even amid persecution, is rewarded, and disloyalty is punished. This is in harmony with the idea of the entire chapter (see the Outline).
The meaning of the individual lines:
Lines 1 and 2
After the connective “For,” which has been explained, line 1 immediately confronts us with a difficulty. There are two main lines of interpretation—there are also others which we shall pass by because even on the surface they are unreasonable—; and the first of these two main lines is subdivided into two main branches or forms:
The first main line of interpretation, in its first form, is as follows: “If we have (that is, “If we shall have,” or, “If at any time we have”) experienced physical death, having been put to death because of our loyalty to Christ, we shall also live with him in glory.” The reference in the if-clause would then be to a violent death, the kind of death Christ also suffered. In the case of believers this would be the martyr’s death.
This interpretation is surely possible. It does not clash with the context. The apostle desires that Timothy be willing to endure bonds along with other faithful servants of God (verse 3). Paul has just stated that he himself is suffering hardship even to bonds as an evil-doer, and that he endures all things for the sake of the elect (verses 9, 10). All this suffering has been imposed from without. Hence, when now in verse 11 he continues, “For if we have died with (him),” he could well have been thinking of that final form of physical affliction (the martyr’s death) which may at any time be imposed upon Christ’s loyal servants.
It is possible, however, that this interpretation is in need of some modification. This brings us to the second form in which the first main line of interpretation presents itself. Here, too, just as in the first form of this main line, the martyr’s death is in the picture. But according to this view the sense would not be that believers (including Paul and Timothy) are pictured as having at any time already experienced the martyr’s death but rather as being fully resigned to it and to all the afflictions which precede it. Paul then would be saying, “For Christ’s sake and in harmony with his example we have given ourselves up once for all to a life that involves exposure to pain, torture, reproach, and finally to the martyr’s death. We have, accordingly, died to worldly comfort, ease, advantage, and honor. If, then, we have in that sense died with (him), we shall also live with (him), here and now, even more by and by in heavenly glory, and especially after the Judgment Day in the new heaven and earth.” Along this line Calvin, Ellicott, and Van Andel (for titles see Bibliography).
In favor of this interpretation are the following considerations:
(1) This also is not in conflict with the context which, as was noted, describes deprivation to which believers are exposed.
(2) It is in complete harmony with the line which immediately follows, for the person who has given up earthly ambition and has resigned himself for Christ’s sake to reproach, suffering, and if need be to violent death, is the very man who “endures,” that is, who “remains steadfast to the end.”
(3) It is in agreement with Paul’s thought as expressed elsewhere. See especially 2 Cor. 4:10: “always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” With this compare 1 Cor. 15:31, “I die daily” (explained by verse 30: “we stand in jeopardy every hour”).
If this be the correct interpretation—and I believe that it has much in its favor—, the thought which Paul, in quoting from the hymn, is conveying, is the one with which we ourselves are familiar. It has been expressed poetically in the beautiful lines:
“Hence with earthly treasure!
Thou art all my pleasure,
Jesus, all my choice.
Hence, thou empty glory!
Naught to me thy story,
Told with tempting voice.
Pain or loss or shame or cross
Shall not from my Savior move me,
Since he deigns to love me.
Hence, all fear and sadness!
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus enters in.
Those who love the Father,
Though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within.
Yea, whate’er I here must bear,
Thou art still my purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure.”
(Johann Frenck, 1653; translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1863)
The interpretation given, in either of its two forms, is surely preferable to the second main line of interpretation, according to which here in 2 Tim. 2:11 the apostle is referring in general (without any reference to the martyr’s death) to the process of dying unto sin, that process of conversion and sanctification which is symbolized by the rite of baptism. This is a very popular view, in support of which an appeal is usually made to the similar-sounding passage, Rom. 6:8.
But the present passage, 2 Tim. 2:11, occurs in an entirely different context. Romans 6 deals, indeed, with “death unto sin.” The theme of the beginning of that chapter is that of spiritual renewal (“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live in it?… Our old man was crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed,” etc.) And from verse 10 on to the end of that chapter the word sin (noun or verb) or its synonym occurs in every verse!
Accordingly, the contexts of the two passages (Rom. 6:8; 2 Tim. 2:11) are entirely different. The one deals with sanctification in general; in the other cross-bearing and the martyr’s death are in view.—Things which differ should not be confused!
Line 2 is not difficult once line 1 has been correctly interpreted. It means, “If we remain steadfast to the very end (for the meaning of endurance see N.T.C. on I and II Thessalonians, p. 198), we shall be kings in close association with him.”
If Interpretation 1, Form 1, is adopted, the living and reigning would have to refer solely to the believer’s existence after death. If Interpretation 1, Form 2, is preferred, the living and reigning pertains in principle even to the period before death, but comes to fruition immediately after death (cf. Matt. 10:32; Rev. 20:4), reaching its everlasting climax on and after the Judgment Day, when the saints will live and reign with Christ with respect to both body and soul (Dan. 7:27; Matt. 25:34; Rev. 22:5).
To live with Christ means to be with him, to have fellowship with him, to delight in him, to be like him, to love him, and to glorify him (see, for example, John 17:3; Phil. 2:5; Col. 3:1–4; 1 John 3:2; 5:12; Rev. 14:1; Rev. 19:11, 14; 22:4).
To reign with Christ means to experience in one’s own life the restoration of the royal office. By virtue of creation man held the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. As prophet his mind was illumined so that he knew God. As priest his heart delighted in God. As king his will was in harmony with God’s will. This threefold office, lost through the fall, is restored by God’s grace. The joyful response of the believer’s will to the will of Christ, that response which is true freedom, is the basic element in this reigning with Christ. Moreover, even during the period before death Christians rule the world by means of their prayers, in the sense that again and again judgments occur in answer to prayer (Rev. 8:3–5). In heaven they are even closer to the throne than are the angels (Rev. 4:4; 5:11). In fact, they sit with Christ on his throne (Rev. 3:21), sharing his royal glory. And when Christ returns, the saints sit and judge with him (Ps. 149:5–9; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3).
Lines 3 and 4
Having stated in the first two lines what will happen to those who endure or are willing to endure hardship even to violent death, the last two lines of the quoted portion of the hymn take up the case of those who, having confessed Christ (at least with the lips), become disloyal to him. “If we shall deny (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8) him, he on his part will also deny us.” When a person, because of unwillingness to suffer hardship for the sake of Christ and his cause, disowns the Lord (“I do not know the man!”), then, unless he repents, he will be disowned by the Lord in the great day of judgment (“I do not know you”). See Matt. 26:72; then Matt. 25:12; also Matt. 10:33.
To deny Christ means to be faithless. (The parallelism and also the conclusion—“he … remains faithful”—show that here the meaning of the verb used in the original cannot be: to be unbelieving.) Hence, the hymn continues: “If we are faithless, he on his part …,” but obviously the continuation cannot be “will also be faithless.” One can say, “If we shall deny him, he on his part will also deny us,” but one cannot say, “If we are faithless, he on his part will also be faithless.” Nevertheless, the conclusion of the fourth line corresponds in thought with that of its parallel, the third line; for, the clause “he on his part remains faithful” (line four) is, after all, the same (even more forcefully expressed!) as, “he on his part will also deny us,” for faithfulness on his part means carrying out his threats (Matt. 10:33) as well as his promises (Matt. 10:32)! Divine faithfulness is a wonderful comfort for those who are loyal (1 Thess. 5:24; 2 Thess. 3:3; cf. 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 10:23). It is a very earnest warning for those who might be inclined to become disloyal.
It is hardly necessary to add that the meaning of the last line cannot be, “If we are faithless and deny him, nevertheless he, remaining faithful to his promise, will give us everlasting life.” Aside from being wrong for other reasons, such an interpretation destroys the evident implication of the parallelism between lines three and four.
The final clause of verse 13 is probably to be regarded as a comment by Paul himself (not a part of the hymn): … for to deny himself he is not able. If Christ failed to remain faithful to his threat as well as to his promise, he would be denying himself, for in that case he would cease to be The Truth. See also Num. 23:10; Jer. 10:10; Titus 1:2; Rev. 3:7. But for him to deny himself is, of course, impossible. If it were possible, he would no longer be God!
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 63–66). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 2 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 577–578). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Towner, P. H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus (pp. 506–510). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 248–251). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Barclay, W. (2003). The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated, pp. 189–191). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
 Barcley, W. B. (2005). A Study Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy (pp. 249–250). Darlington, England; Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.
 Hawker, R. (2013). Poor Man’s New Testament Commentary: Philippians–Revelation (Vol. 3, pp. 161–162). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). 2 Timothy (p. 21). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 217–218). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Guthrie, D. (1990). Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 14, pp. 162–163). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (pp. 63–65). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Second Timothy–Titus, Philemon (Vol. 1, pp. 173–178). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.
 Utley, R. J. (2000). Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey: I Timothy, Titus, II Timothy (Vol. Volume 9, pp. 149–150). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 254–260). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.