'Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus' (2 Timothy 2:1) is not a bad choice as a summary verse for 1 and 2 Timothy. The entire epistle of 2 Timothy is written in particular with this thought in mind. Timothy needed the exhortation 'be strong'. His position was perilous at Ephesus. Timothy had the task of mounting a single handed rescue operation at Ephesus on every conceivable front it would seem:
- Morally – 'faith and a good conscience' – 1 Tim 1:5,19,20; 4:12 – MEN DEFILED
- Doctrinally – 1 Tim 3:16 – CHRIST DISPLACED
- Evangelically – 1 Tim 1:7ff; 2 Tim 2:18 - GRACE DESPISED
- Ecclesiastically – 1 Tim 5 – CHURCH DISREGARDED
- Secular sphere – 1 Tim 6 – AUTHORITY DESPISED
Timothy's temperament would on the surface appear to have been a major hindrance to him in this task. He was timid by temperament (2 Timothy 1:7; 1 Corinthians 16:10), shy and reserved (2 Timothy 1:6) and came from a relatively sheltered upbringing (2 Timothy 1:5). What appeared to be his greatest weakness was however in reality his greatest strength! Timothy like Gideon, in the weakness of who he was, 'poor in Manasseh... least in my father's house' (Judges 6:15). His weakness was the essential prelude to his success. With Gideon there was a very clear sense that the salvation of Israel could not rest on the shoulders of Gideon! Who was Gideon? Nobody very much! A clear sense of his own personal weakness and honest self awareness brought Gideon, as it did Timothy, under conviction that any strength must come from another resource, not himself but the Lord, here was his only reliable source of strength:
'The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour' (Judge 6:12)
'Go in this thy might... thou shalt save Israel...have not I sent thee.' (Judges 6:14)
'Surely I will be with thee' (Judges 6:16)
'If now I have found grace in thy sight, then show me a sign that thou talkest with me.' (Judges 6:17)
It would be easy to send a detonator into Ephesus but Timothy would not provide a flash point to an already volatile situation. Timothy would diffuse it! Let us be careful not to write someone off because of our perception of them. A perception which is often disproportionately skewed by our perception of their weakness! Their weakness, can in the right circumstances, with the all sufficient grace of God become their strength!
Timothy MUST be strong! Yet like most of us the problem for Timothy is not the knowing WHAT he should do nor WHAT he should be doing but the HOW he should be doing it! Anyone can give you a list of what you should be doing. That part is easy. The problem however lies rather with 'HOW I can do it!'
This epistle should help to encourage Timothy, the contents of 2 Timothy will strengthen him:
Chapter 1 – I know whom I have believed (1:12)
Chapter 2 – I know what I have believe note the threefold mention of truth in 2:15 vs 18 vs 25
Chapter 3 – I know how I believed: the spiritual heritage of my faith through the apostles (3:14) and the absolute certainty of the Word of God (3:15).
Chapter 4 – I know why I believe; note the eternal perspective of this closing chapter of Paul's life:
That's good to keep in mind!
But day to day Timothy needs real strength, real resources to draw from in all of the difficulties of life!
Here in 2 Timothy chapter 2 verse 1 is the 'classical answer' (Walter Alexander) on how to be strong! 1 Timothy brings to us our provision in Christ. Our resources in Christ lie at the centre of 1 Timothy (1 Timothy 3:16). 2 Timothy focuses on the need of Timothy to draw from those resources (2 Timothy 3:17). It is possible for all of these resources to be there in Christ and yet for us never to draw from those resources! That would be the normal for humanity as a whole! You and I as believers are to be the exception to it!
How can I be strong in the Grace that is in Christ Jesus? What is that Grace like? Why does God strengthen me by His Grace for the task He gives me to do? Why does God do it this way? Give me a task that I cannot complete with a resource I must run to Him for? Why not fit the task at Ephesus to Mr Self Confident? This grace in Christ is a resource which becomes ours by faith. This grace is a resource and our ability to draw from it only makes sense because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. This grace is a resource because not only is this Grace 'in Christ Jesus' but so are we! (2 Timothy 1:9). Consider also the same truth taught in John 10:38; 14:10-11; 14:20; 17:21. The preposition 'in' here indicates:
- Intimacy / proximity of relationship
- Communion without boundaries / unrestricted
This is a choice, to rest by faith in Christ rather than to fail in the strength of my flesh. This is a decision forged in adversity, founded in relationship, and fulfilled in experience. It is only when we fully appreciated that the demands placed upon us in the task which we are given to do outstrip our resources to achieve the outcome which we desire, that the need outstrips our abilities are we then willing to make a choice:
- To continue in our own strength and fail eg Saul
- To capitulate and thus flee
- To trust and depend on the Lord, to draw from the riches of God's Grace in Christ and to fight.
When I cannot:
- Trust in self
- Trust in others
- Trust in things
Then I am ready to
- Fight in His strength.
This was the line crossed by:
Noah who had a world to save! Could he survive in his own strength or would he learn to trust God's design?
Jonah when he had no one and nothing to trust in, cast by his companions into the depth of the sea, abandoned totally to faith in God. 'then Jonah prayed unto the Lord,' (Jonah 2:1), 'thou hast cast me into the deep' (2:3); 'I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy Holy temple' (2:4).
Gideon, the young man who was poor in Manasseh, and least in his father's house. He dare not depend on self, nor upon others nor upon things.
David who was but a youth and Goliath a man of war from his youth. David the shepherd lad did not rest in self, nor in objects nor things like Saul's armour. Whilst the others failed to face up to the armies of the Philistines, he made a decision to trust borne out of the necessity of circumstances and arising from the reality of his own real and experienced relationship with God.
Samson perhaps most surprisingly an example of this very principle of drawing from the Grace of God for our resources. Samson who was always self sufficient in his own strength and abilities. Yet circumstances and events ordered and ordained to bring him to a decision to trust. This was a decision borne of necessity, empowered by a Nazarite relationship with God, compromised and defiled but never destroyed, to rest in faith in God, 'strengthen me only this once.' Even Samson, especially Samson established the truth that resting in God's strength achieves exceedingly far more than resting in our own strength even when our own strength seems that great.
What does that Grace look like?
God's Grace in Christ is all sufficient for every circumstance of life.
His Grace can provide:
- A boat on top of the floods – as it was for Noah
- A fish beneath the waves – as it was for Jonah
- A path through the midst of the sea – as it was for Moses
His Grace can look like:
- The provision of a bride – as it was Isaac
- The birth of a son – as it was for Abraham
- The marriage to a husband – as it was for Ruth
His Grace can taste like
- Bread from heaven
- Water from the rock
- A cake at the foot of a tree
- Meal in a barrel
- Show bread from the sanctuary
His Grace can sustain:
- Noah for 40 days
- Israel for 40 years
His Grace can be felt:
- By His preservation in the fiery furnace
- By His Peace in the upper room
- By His presence on the road to Emmaus
His Grace can give:
- Words to say (Luke 12:11)
- Power to preach (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
- Patience in suffering (2 Corinthians 13)
His Grace is
- The fresh air of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace
- The sweet waters of Marah
- The loaves and fishes from the hands of Jesus
His Grace is:
- The wisdom of Solomon
- The patience of Job
- The meekness of Moses
- The faith of Abraham
- Boldness of Paul
Whatever legitimate need God's people have, consistent with His will, God's grace can supply.
Why does God strengthen us by His Grace? Decisions in the realm of daily experience connect the cause to the effects of transforming Grace. God's Grace flows to us through the conduit of crises in human experience. If Grace is a Divine well, the reason for drawing from that well lies in the necessity of our personal circumstances, the compulsion of relationship and informed by personal experience.
'if we be dead with Him we shall also live with Him.' (v11)
What does this mean 'to be dead with Him?' When Christ died, did I die? What does that mean? This is something very practical for the Christian life. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ was the total selfless offering up and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. To enjoy the reality and fullness of the new life in Jesus Christ this too must become my experience. Thus it is the case that I live when I die, I gain when I give, when I deny myself I gain Christ. This experience is pictured in:
- The soldier in Conflict
- The athlete in Competition for the Crown
- The farmer with the Crop
Those crises are pictured here in the metaphors of 2 Timothy. Here are the extraneous circumstances in which decisions are made. Decisions which are borne of necessity, compelled by relationship, informed by experience to rest in faith in Christ rather than to fail in the strength of my flesh.
- The soldier in the Conflict
- The athlete in the Contest and Crown
- The farmer for his Crop
The decision to trust and draw from the well of God's grace will utterly transform Timothy's character (2:8,11). When God personally, individually elected you to salvation, He did so according to His purpose and provided for you all that grace that would be needed for you in Christ (1:9). This is a choice, to rest by faith in Christ rather than to fail in the strength of my flesh, forged in adversity, founded in relationship, and fulfilled in experience.
The picture of the soldier in conflict would speak of:
- Determination – in the training
It is utterly imperative that I expect discouragement, that I anticipate opposition and that I look for problems.
- Discipline – in the battle
- Accountability – after the war
The athlete must strive lawfully, he had to swear on an oath that he had carried out at least 10 months of training in the preceding year to maintain the high standing of the games. In doing God's work we must be obedient to the Word of God. Consider those who fell at this hurdle!
- Abraham and Egypt
- Moses and striking the rock twice
- Naomi and Moab
- Samson and the Philistine bride, the harlot of Gaza and Delilah
- David and Bathsheba
- David and numbering the nation
- Peter and denying the Lord 3 times
All of these acts of disobedience, derailed, side tracked their spiritual journeys, yet all of them ultimately were recovered! The crown is dependent upon obedience and conformity to the Word of God. We must hold both godliness and truth. Consider the tragic examples of Hymenaeus and Philetus.
We must 'strive' but to strive I must be strong. That strength will be found in the 'grace that is in Christ Jesus'. Strong in obedience to the Word of God and to be obedient to His Word is a step of faith.
1 Peter 2:6 'Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.'
Isa 28:16 'Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.'
In striving lawfully, I rest in faith on Him!
Most translations translate this verse as a consequence of labouring, and as an encouragement thus to Timothy to labour. This is the simplest way to think of the verse.
'The husbandman that laboureth must be the first to partake of the fruits.' (ASV)
'The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.' (NIV)
'It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.' (ESV)
This is the simplest way to take the verse, that as the labourer in the field then you will be rewarded with the fruit of your labour! Fruitfulness is a consequence of labouring. Simple enough? Yip it is. The problem is when you look at the details it falls apart, in fact it seriously falls apart.
What fruit is it that Timothy labours for in the field? Is it not the fruitfulness in the gospel (eg John 12:24; Rom 1:13), the fruit of saved souls and the fruitfulness in his ministry, fruitful and changed lifes (John 15:1ff; Rom 6:22; Galatians 5:22; Col 1:6)? If that is the fruit that he labours for then how does he partake of it? In the interpretation of the metaphor Timothy labours for fruit in salvation and changed lives but partakes of a completely different fruit from that which he labours for in the field – the fruit of reward.
What does it mean in this simple interpretation to 'first partake' of the fruits? Is there a queue at the Bema? Rather than a CONSEQUENCE of labouring I suggest that to preserve the metaphor of the fruit that fruitfulness is a CONDITION of labouring. This fits well with the other two metaphors which are there by means of exhortation, to do and to strive rather than comfort. The conditions at Ephesus were such that there was a blatant disconnect in those claiming to be teachers of the Word of God who do not display the attributes they seek to teach (2 Tim 3:5ff; 1 Tim 1:5; 1:19). It is imperative to partake of the fruit as a CONDITION for seeking that same fruit in others! For productivity there must be participation. There is a sense here in which if we understand the partaking of fruit as a condition of labouring rather than a consequence of labouring then we cannot go unless the Lord goes with us. I am wasting my time labouring unless the reality of what I am labouring for is seen in me first! Consider the example of Jacob in Genesis 32:26: 'I will not let thee go except thou bless me'. Jacob could not press on into tomorrow, into his destiny without the guarantee of the blessing of the Lord. To go and be a blessing, to perpetuate and fulfil the blessing, to continue the patriarchal line of blessing, I must be a blessing!
I could not find any commentators to agree with me on this one: Calvin, Tyndale (DJ Wiseman); NICNT, Bible Speaks Today, Darby, IVP NT Commentary (Philip Towner), Barnes on the NT, Expositors Bible Commentary, Jamieson Fausset and Brown, WE Vine, and then:
'The application lies on the surface. This is not the truth that Timothy and Paul and preachers generally must have physical sustenance to do their spiritual work, the farmer takes his share of the very produce he raises for others. So Timothy and Paul, who toil for spiritual fruit for others, must ever and ever, as the very first ones, take of this spiritual fruit for themselves. They toil by preaching and teaching the gospel (1:11), and this toil produces faith, love, godlines, etc., precious "fruits" indeed. But unless they are the first to appropriate their share of these fruits they soon cease to be the Lord's farmers to produce anything for anybody. Yet the point which Paul would here make is the value, the blessedness of the fruits, and the joy of having one's share in them. Also this truth: there must be farmers to sustain the life of the world; there must be preachers to sustain the life of the church. Since this is a necessity in fact, the preachers sit at the very fountain, their very profession compels them to be the first to partake.'
Well said Mr Lenski
This is a choice, to rest by faith in Christ rather than to fail in the strength of my flesh, forged in adversity, founded in relationship, and fulfilled in experience.
From our series of systematic expository bible studies in Paul's letters of 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. A series of messages preached at the Bridgend Gospel Hall New Cumnock by Dr J Stewart Gillespie.