Paul’s instruction for Timothy to continue in the things he had learned (2 Timothy 3:14) is actually a parallel to Jesus’ own statement to the disciples in John 8:31 – “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” In effect, Paul is telling Timothy that the way to stay completely prepared/equipped for serving God in this world is to “stay where God put the equipment for your task” (vv. 15-17). Christians sometimes make the mistake of trying to “improve on” God’s purpose for us by discarding the tools He has given us; “I know the bible says ___________, but that just won’t work in today’s modern world! We’ve got to change with the times!” Sentiments like this reveal that the person expressing them either hasn’t read or doesn’t believe Jude’s words (Jude 3), that the faith has been “…once for all delivered to the saints.” God’s solution for our sin dilemma does not change because that problem – sin – does not change. This is why Paul could tell the Philippian Christians that he was “set” (Philippians 1:17 – “appointed,” NKJ) to defend THE gospel, using a word here that describes being established on a fixed, unmoving foundation.
With no “break” in thought from chapter 3 to chapter 4, Paul segues into the theme of “being consistent regardless of the circumstances.” Timothy was at this time ministering in Ephesus, where Paul had previously encountered significant opposition (Acts 19:23ff), and he knew Timothy might have to face a similar situation there. The fundamental message of verse 2 – “preach the word” – is consistency. Whether Timothy should reprove (to convict, by exposing), rebuke (to admonish severely, to chide for error or sin), or exhort (support, encouragement, comfort) would depend on the specific circumstances of the moment, but all these “tools” have their proper uses in preparing us for judgement and eternity (and note; each of these is presented as a commandment, not as a “suggestion” for us to accept or reject). We may not enjoy either giving OR receiving reproof or rebuke, but they are no less necessary than the encouragement (“exhortation”) we often crave! Paul goes on in verses 6-8 to illustrate with his own example how being consistent in what we teach and practice – in faithfulness – allows us to confront our own mortality with confidence instead of terror.
Demas may be best-known for Paul’s none-too -complimentary statement in verse 10, but it is possible that we “read into” his words more than we should: We don’t know the details of why Demas “forsook” (abandoned, deserted) Paul. What IS clear is that the “pull” of the world can be very powerful, even in the “orbit” of an apostle! The lesson to learn is for us to wary of the world’s pull on us, 1 Peter 5:8-9.
There seems to be a stark contrast implied between Demas’ departure in verse 10 and Paul’s request that Timothy bring Mark with him to Rome (vs. 11) because he would be “profitable” (useful) in his efforts to minister to others. In Acts 15:35-39, the fact that Mark had previously “deserted” them in their work at Perga (Acts 12:25, cf. 13:13) had caused Paul to argue so heatedly with Barnabas that they split up and went separate ways in their work! Here, however, Paul shows us the importance of being able to acknowledge both the fact that Mark had grown and matured in his faith and boldness, and (perhaps) his own misjudgement of Mark’s potential. It is important for Christians to recognize and believe that people can change for the better, because that’s the essence of what God calls on each of us to do, in repentance from sins.