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Be Strong in the Grace

Date: Jul. 30, 2017

Author: Michael Mark

2 Timothy 2:1-13

Key Verse: 2 Timothy 2:1

“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

How many of you consider yourself a strong person, in general?  How many of you consider yourself strong in a particular area of your life?  What does it mean to be strong?  Someone who is strong is someone who can overcome adversity, challenges and hardship.  Someone who is strong does not avoid difficulty, but goes through it to the end.  How many of you want to be stronger?  This is what Paul is calling on Timothy to become, in today’s passage from 2 Timothy chapter 2.  At the end of chapter 1, Paul writes that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted him, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.  He then goes on to commend Onesiphorus, who searched hard to find Paul in Rome.  As you might remember, Paul was locked up in prison during a time of an intense persecution of Christians, yet Onesiphorus was one of only a few people who was not ashamed of Paul’s chains, and often refreshed him.

Paul now turns his attention back to Timothy, look at v.1, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  Look at how he starts this chapter.  “You then!”  “You then!” Have I got your attention yet?  “You then.”  He is calling Timothy to careful attention.  He says, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  Paul was concerned for the future of the church, and also for the well-being of Timothy.  He calls him “my son,” showing his deep affection for Timothy his disciple, and proceeds to exhort him to be strong.  He is telling Timothy to receive strength, to be strengthened.  The source of that strength is not in Timothy.  He did not tell Timothy “be strong by believing in yourself.”  He did not say, “be strong for me, son.”  He said “be strong in the grace.”  The source of strength is in grace.  Grace is unmerited favor.  Grace is a gift.  And the source of grace is in Christ Jesus.  Now you know where you can find strength.  The source of strength is grace, and the source of grace is in Christ Jesus.  Why does Timothy need to be strong?  How can he be strong?  These two questions are answered as Paul gives earthly examples in v.2-7 and spiritual examples in v.8-13.

Look at v.2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will be qualified to teach others.”  This is one of the reasons why Timothy had to be strong – because he had to carry on the ministry.  Paul was referring to the time Timothy was ordained to lead the church in the presence of many witnesses.  Paul had taught him there the correct teachings he was to pass on.  He didn’t say “Here are some good teachings, keep them for yourself,” but instead he charged Timothy with the task of passing it on.  Specifically, Timothy had to entrust these teachings to reliable people who must also be qualified to teach.  Seeing that many had deserted Paul, it may have been hard to find people you could count on.  These people also needed to be qualified, which means that they had to be blameless, without reproach, men who were not living in sin but striving to lead holy lives. 

It takes strength to disciple people.  It takes strength to carry on a ministry.  Timothy had to study to show himself as one approved, maybe sometimes it seemed that his disciples weren’t getting it.  Maybe sometimes only 3 people would show up.  There were times here in our ministry where we got discouraged when nobody but the boys would show up for the Bible Club.  But thank God for their faithfulness.  Thank God for David Henkins, David Cook and Sam Rarick for being faithful to prepare and lead Bible study faithfully every week.  And now they have a chance to pass on the ministry – to David Kim, Wofai and Lazarus.  The Yangs will also take on the task of passing on the word of God to students in Rwanda.  Already, Sh. Hodal, a promising young leader, is being raised up to teach and carry on the ministry that started with our Lord Jesus Christ.  But the work is not easy.  We have heard about how Msn. Daniel and Deborah labor in Bible study.  And as they will be going for long term missions in a matter of weeks, they will need to draw on the strength that comes from the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Another reason why Timothy needed to be strong is in v.3, which says, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”  One thing we can be sure about as Christians is that there will be suffering.  Some people may have the idea that once you become a Christian, life goes on easy street from there.  Not the case.  The metaphor Paul uses is a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  This indicates that we are in a war.  Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).  Satan is real.  Demons are real, and evil is real.  These are the forces behind the scenes of the suffering in the world, but Christ is fighting against this not with worldly weapons, but with his word.  We are called to be soldiers of Christ Jesus.  Not just ordinary soldiers, but good soldiers.  Good soldiers in the sense that we are like the best, and good soldiers in the sense that we do not inflict evil, but patiently endure.  Here is also another encouragement – that we suffer together for the cause of Christ.  Sometimes, in worldly suffering, we may feel as if we are suffering all by ourselves.  But when we suffer for Christ, we are all sharing in the same suffering.  Even Christ himself suffered.  The fact is, there will always be suffering until Jesus comes again, so even if you escape from Christ, you still will not escape from suffering.  Only Christ can give us strength and hope through all of our suffering, and suffering for his cause is a completely differing kind of suffering than that of the world.  So let us join with Christ in suffering for his cause, let us join with Paul and Timothy in suffering, and let us join together with all of our brothers and sisters in suffering, as good soldiers of Christ Jesus.

In v.4-6, Paul uses 3 metaphors taken from different professions to teach Timothy about perseverance.  Through these different life pictures of a soldier, and athlete and a farmer, we can also get an idea of how to be strengthened.  Look at v.4, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  Paul himself may have been chained to a Roman soldier in his imprisonment, and he would have noticed his discipline and obedience to commands.  A Roman soldier was not allowed to get involved in running a business or a farm during his active service.  If he did get involved it would affect his ability to be a good soldier and carry out his commands.  Instead his only objective was to please his commanding officer.  For Timothy, this meant that he should give his whole time and life to leading the church, and not forsake this duty to run a business or farm or anything else.  But what does this mean for many of us, who are students, teachers, architects, doctors, social workers, retail associates, etc.?  Should we leave our jobs?  I would say no, unless God has called you into full time ministry.  But technically, there is no such thing as part-time ministry.  So you serve God in your vocation – serve God at your work, serve God at school, and in your home.  Obey the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  The way the metaphor applies to you is this: do not let anything hinder your faith in God.  Do not get entangled in sin, or greed, or unbelief that would cause you to fall away.  It may even be a good thing, like family, friends, or work, or a hobby – do not let those things be reasons that you would abandon the faith.  The soldier makes every effort to please his commanding officer, and our Commanding Officer is Christ himself.

Verse 5 speaks of an athlete.  It says, “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”  The soldier does not get caught up in civilian affairs, but is dedicated to completing the commands of his superior.  In the context of perseverance, the athlete who wins competes to the end.  Rules must be followed to win.  In order to win the race, the runner must be the first to cross the finish line.  You can’t win any other way.  In order to win a wrestling match, you have to pin your opponent down for 10 seconds.  If you give up, you definitely cannot win.  Now, in our experience there is usually only one winner in sporting games, but in the arena of God all competitors on his side will be winners.  I think of it like this: everyone competing is competing as one body against sin and death, and everyone who makes it to the finish line will receive a reward.  I might also add that the winner in God’s “games” has already been determined.  So persevere to the end, and you will win the prize.

The last metaphor is that of a farmer in v.6, “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.”  Again, if we take this in the context of perseverance, we can read this as, “Crops will come to the farmer that works hard.”  Unlike the soldier and athlete, the job of a farmer is not glamorous.  It’s dirty, sweaty, repetitive, hard work.  The farmer has to break up the soil, fertilize it, sow the seed and water the plants.  He must also pull out any weeds, and get rid of bugs and pests.  If a farmer gives up or does not work hard in any of these duties, he will not receive a crop.

Through the example of the soldier, the athlete and the farmer we can see how we can be strengthened in the grace that is in Jesus Christ.  Notice that all of these activities require effort.  Strength does not come passively, but it comes to us as we serve the Lord.  How do you become stronger naturally?  You exercise, you put in the time and work.  But also notice that it is not our efforts that strengthen us, but the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the one who gives us strength to make the efforts.  Remember that Jesus is the source of strength.  What is the grace, or the gift of God in each of these jobs?  For the soldier, it is the pleasure of his commanding officer.  For the athlete, it is the victor’s crown.  For the farmer, it is the crops.  These are the reasons they each persevere through their trials, because their goal is to obtain the reward from the Lord.  They are strengthened because they trust that their efforts are not in vain.  We will be strengthened through serving and trusting in Jesus Christ, because of his grace to us.  Though our efforts may be feeble because we are week, he still rewards, not because we deserve it, but because he is gracious.

Look at v.7, “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”  Paul was telling Timothy to reflect on what he just said, probably about the three examples.  It took me hours to understand what Paul was saying, and I’m sure I don’t have it all 100% correct, nor have I mastered the meaning completely.  I’m sure Timothy spent much more time digesting what Paul had written – but look who gives the insight.  It is the Lord who teaches us.  Paul trusted that the Lord would teach Timothy.  Even if I shared what little insight I received with you, you will do well to still reflect on these things.  Sh. Bob, Dan and I study hard to mine the meaning and share what we learned with you, but God still has more insight to give you.  This is also the grace of God.  If you have understood what I have spoken about up to this point, thank God for that understanding.  Really, we all are blind unless he opens our eyes.  Have you ever lost your keys, only to find out they were right there in front of you?  Your blindness is kind of like that.  But the grace of God opens the eyes of your mind to his glorious truth, so that you may be continually strengthened by the increase in knowledge of his words.  Reflect often on the word of God, study the Bible, and the promise is here – the Lord will give you insight into everything.

Paul now transitions into speaking of spiritual truths, and here again we can see why and how we are strengthened – from a spiritual perspective.  Look at v.8-9, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.  But God’s word is not chained.”  Paul begins v.8 with “Remember Jesus Christ,” because he wants to remind Timothy of the primary thing he should preach.  He is putting the gospel prominently front and center to show its importance.  The short sentence in verse 8 contains great truths.  First, Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.  This is the central point of the gospel – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is futile.  There were people attacking the truth about the resurrection of Christ in Paul’s day.  To say that Jesus rose from the dead implies that he died.  And we know that he died to pay for our sins, and he rose from the dead to show that God was satisfied with his payment, and the penalty for our sins has been erased. 

Paul also writes that he descended from David.  The resurrection tells us Jesus is God, but his descent from David tells us that Jesus was also a man in the flesh, born from the line of David.  Jesus walked among us, as surely as I am standing here today.  His descent from David also shows that He is the Messiah, a fact that the Jews tried and still try to suppress.  He is the king, the heir of King David’s throne, and because of the resurrection he has ascended and become our Eternal King.  The resurrection, the Messiah – this is the gospel, which means good news.  This is the gospel that was given to Paul to preach, then given to Timothy to pass on, and given to us to continue to pass on.  This is the reason Timothy needed strength: because of the gospel.  We need strength because of the gospel.  Why?  Because it is the gospel that caused Paul to be put into prison.  Even in the world we live in today, there are people in high places that hate the gospel.  In some countries you will be thrown in jail for sharing the gospel.

Though Paul was chained, he said God’s word is not chained.  The gospel cannot be stopped, and it will go out to reach the darkest corners of the earth.  Sometimes it will even go to prisons so that even criminals can hear the good news.  That is why we need to be strong, because God may send us into dark places to bring the light to others.  It is ironic that even though Paul was held captive, his guards became his captive audience.  Some people will run away if you tell them the gospel, but these guards were chained to Paul.  Thus the gospel was spread in prison, and also because of his persecution, those people even all the way up in Caesar’s palace would hear the gospel.  God can use even persecution to spread the gospel.

So Paul says in v.10, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”  Here you can see Paul’s heart.  He was more concerned about others than himself.  This is another reason we need to be strong – to endure so that others may be saved.  Salvation is the outcome of the gospel.  God wants to send the gospel out to all the world so that people will be saved.  And notice that there is more than just salvation – there is eternal glory.  We receive eternal glory on top of our salvation.  So not only will we be raised from the dead, but we will be given an indescribable glory.  This is truly the grace of God.

Paul quotes a poem in v.11-13.  This might actually be a known hymn in Paul’s time, and he is using it to illustrate what he is talking about in v.8-10.  In this hymn, we can also see how we can be strengthened, from a spiritual perspective.  Look at v.11-13, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.  If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”  Paul commends this hymn by marking it as a trustworthy saying.  This is something we can rely on, and believe.  The first verse says, “If we died with him, we will also live with him.”  Notice died is past tense, something that happened in the past, and live is future tense, because it applies after we die.  When did we die?  When we repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus.  When we decided to give our lives to Christ.  So we live now, and when we die our first death, we will surely rise to live forever.  Also consider this: we did not die alone, but we died along with Christ.  You did not die alone!  You will not die alone!  We died together with him when he died for our sins.  If we die with Christ, we will also live with him.  He rose from the grave, and if we believe with all our heart, so will we!

The second verse says if we endure, we will also reign with him.  This endurance refers to the suffering and shame for the gospel.  It is not suffering and shame for doing something bad.  It is the suffering that comes as a result of serving God.  Not all of us will go to prison, but we may experience persecution and shame in other ways.  We might be teased for our belief, we might be called “Holy Rollers”, or weak, or intolerant, or bigots or hateful.  It may appear as if Christians are to be pitied above all men, but look at the reality: we will also reign with him.  When Christ comes again, everything will be reversed, back to the way it should be.  Those who were once high and persecuted Christians will be brought low, and those who were humbled for the sake of the gospel will be exalted with Christ.

Now comes a warning, this is a safeguard to keep us from falling away, but also an alarm so that people may repent.  Though Jesus is gracious, he is also just and will not tolerate evil.  The verse says, “If we disown him, he will also disown us.”  If we fall away, either by chasing the things of this world, turning away in disbelief, leave the faith for fear of persecution or death, or turn away to follow the sin of the world, we are essentially saying “Christ, I do not believe you.”  When we do not persevere, we are saying “Jesus, I never knew you,” to which he will also say, “Man, I never knew you, depart from me, you worker of iniquity.” 

The last verse was a bit puzzling at first – it says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”  It didn’t really fit the pattern of the first three verses, but the meaning is this – despite people falling away, it does not take away from God’s glory.  Sometimes there’s a hot new restaurant in town, and for the first couple of months lines are out the door.  But after a while the crowds start dwindling and few people return.  The restaurant will seem to be less glorious, but this is not the case with God.  People falling away does nothing to the glory of God.  He will be glorified.  To summarize these three verses, it means that God does not change.  This means that he will judge the wicked, but he will also save the righteous.  “He cannot disown himself” means that he is faithful to himself.  He is not faithful “because of” us; he is faithful to us because he is faithful, but he is not faithful “because of us.”  His faithfulness will not stop just because many have become unfaithful – and thank God, because we are a fickle people.  He is faithful to himself and his word.  It means he cannot lie, and he does not lie.  This is encouragement to us – because it means that God keeps his promises.  He made a promise to Abraham, and to David, and he fulfilled them.  He promised to save us from our sins, and he carried it out.  He promises to come again, and take us to be with him in glory.  So if you persevere, if you trust him, and wait on him, he will save you, and bring you to glory.

From a spiritual perspective, we can see how we can be strengthened: by dying, in repentance daily to our sins, by enduring sufferings, and remaining faithful to him.  And once again, we are strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  What is his grace to us?  It is life, it is glory, and it is his faithfulness.  In God we trust.  God’s grace is not some fluffy, feel-good, marshmallow love stuff.  Because God is faithful, and he does not change, because of his great and glorious promises, God’s grace is the firm foundation, the unbreakable bedrock of our strength.  Carry out his commands unswervingly to love Him, and to love your neighbor as yourself as a good soldier to please your Commanding Officer.  Forget what is behind, both your sins, and even your accomplishments, and press on ahead like an athlete running the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Do the humble work of a farmer, sowing seed, watering the plants, preparing Bible studies, sharing the gospel, praying for everyone, and God will grant you an abundant harvest.  Join with Paul and Timothy in suffering for the sake of the church, that all who come to believe may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

Be motivated by the grace of God to make every effort to persevere in all of life’s difficulties and trials, and persevere in every good work.  Don’t be discouraged if life doesn’t go your way – it is God’s grace, either to test and grow your faith, or to bring his grace to someone else through you.  Others may be facing severe trials, to which I must not make light – may God’s grace be with all who suffer to grant them strength.  If you persevere to the end, there is a crown of life waiting for you.  God promised this in his word (James 1:12).  And He is faithful.  You then, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

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