Although there is still some debate among scholars, most agree that 2 Timothy was written during Paul's second imprisonment in Rome. This time his situation was quite different from what we have described at the end of Acts. On that earlier occasion, he was under house arrest and for two whole years he was given freedom to welcome those who came to him and to teach them about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:31). But this time, Paul was most likely in a dungeon cell, which one writer describes as a "dismal underground dungeon with a hole in the ceiling for light and air".
It seems that between the end of Acts and the writing of 2 Timothy, Paul had been released from house arrest and he had gone on another missionary journey. No one knows for sure how far he went but he may have gone as far as Spain. Clement of Rome in his letter to the Corinthians, says that Paul went to the extreme limit of the west. In Romans 15:24 Paul mentioned that he wanted to go to Spain. Wherever he went, we can be sure that he labored to preach Christ where his glorious name had never been heard before, until he was re-arrested and incarcerated in Roman while he awaited sentencing and execution.
I mention this because I believe there is a valuable lesson here. The picture of the great apostle Paul ending his ministry in this way is poignant and thought-provoking. There were no applauding crowds. No words of praise from talk-show hosts or heads of state. No frontpage stories in the Jerusalem Post or the Roman News. From all outward appearances, Paul had been left to rot in a dungeon. Numerous questions come to mind. Was this any way for God to treat his star ambassador to the Gentiles? What did it say about Paul's 30 years of faithful service? Were they wasted? Did he make a mistake when he committed himself to Jesus? Wasn't this a waste of a great intellect and talent that could have been more profitably employed elsewhere?
These are the questions we are tempted to ask if we judge Paul's ministry by what William Cowper calls, "feeble sense". This is how it appeared on the surface, at the time. But we know that although this was how God ordained Paul's life and ministry to come to a close, this was not the end of his influence. Paul's work lives on in the New Testament and generations of Christians have benefited from his writings. In fact, only eternity will reveal the extent to which God blessed his ministry in the establishing and building of the church.
So it is with our lives and ministries. Many times it is impossible for us to see what the Lord is doing at the moment or even throughout our time on earth. This is where we must live by faith. We must believe that God knows what he is doing and instead of becoming bitter or giving up, we must continue to faithfully do what he has called us to do as long as he calls us to do it. This is an important lesson that lies right on the surface of 2 Timothy, once we appreciate the historical background of this valuable little epistle.