Paul is writing to Timothy and finishes his letter – in fact, his final letter that we know of amongst all of his letters, his epistles – with a charge to Timothy to continue to carry out the work that he has been given to do. Timothy is working in Ephesus amongst the people there and Paul is telling him that he should be continuing in his work.
What is the work that he has charged him to do? First, Paul calls him to preach the word of God. He says that Timothy must be ready to speak the word to both rebuke and encourage, patiently walking through the word so that the people can understand.
Of course, in that time, they had the teachings of Paul, and the words that he had written to the individual churches, but as we think about the word of God, we are really referring to the scriptures of the Torah, the writings of David and Solomon, and the prophets. The scriptures that we would today refer to as the Old Testament, they would refer to as the word of God. The scriptures spoke of the One who would come, the Messiah, and this was the word that Paul is calling Timothy to preach.
Paul explained that people will not want to hear the truth, but Timothy must keep teaching the word correctly. He must not bend to what people want to hear, but what they need to hear. Paul says that people will move from one teacher to the next so that they can hear what they desire. Their ears “itch”, he says, and they look for a teacher that will scratch their itch. But Timothy isn’t to do this. He is to continue steadfastly in the truth, even if it means that he must endure hardship.
And then Paul tells Timothy that, beyond teaching, he must also evangelize and speak to people that haven’t heard of Christ. He must call new disciples into the Kingdom, allowing them to hear the word of God as well so that many more yet would follow Christ.
I think that verse 6 starts the crux of this chapter, and probably of the entirety of Paul’s letter. He says this:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-8
Paul is telling Timothy that his time is coming to an end, and he is calling Timothy to continue the work that he has start. Because he is being poured out like a drink offering, because he has fought the good fight and finished the race, because he has kept the faith, Paul will now continue on to be with Christ and receive the reward for his faith. And he says that everyone who has done the same will also be rewarded in the same way.
Paul has taught Timothy to live as he lives and now he is charging him to work as he is working. In this chapter, he is “passing the baton” of the work on to Timothy, although this certainly isn’t the first time that Paul has taught and equipped Timothy. It is simply the last letter that we see with these instructions to him. Paul has passed the work from himself to others many times over, encouraging and equipping the next generation many times before, but now he is charging Timothy to continue the work as the next generation who will carry on his commission as a disciple and worker for Christ.