DUNCAN/Strong grace, hard work, good memories
Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Timothy 2:1-9 where Paul exhorts Timothy to be aware of the reality that he is living in and ministering to both an imperfect world and an imperfect church. In this passage, Paul uses several key phrases as his words of counsel to Timothy as he lives and ministers amongst the people of God. First, in verse 1, Paul says, “Be strong.” Then, in verse 3, he says, “suffer hardship.” Next, in verses 6-8, Paul tells Timothy the kind of mindset that he wants him to have as he is enduring hardship. Finally, in verse 8, Paul says, “Remember Jesus Christ.”
I. Be Strong in the Grace of Christ.
In verse 1 Paul says, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” In other words, he is calling on Timothy to be ready to work and to work vigorously, but to do so utterly reliant upon the grace which is in Christ Jesus. And in this exhortation, we see a summation of a massive biblical truth which is that all of the Christian life is a matter of dependent responsibility. The Apostle Paul wants us to work by grace, and so he exhorts Timothy and the Ephesians and you and me to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” This is a lesson that all of us need to learn. Paul is calling on us to be strong, not in ourselves, but in the grace that is only found in Christ. What God requires, He supplies by His Spirit. The Christian life is not a life of laziness. It’s not a life of leisure and ease; it’s a life of dependent work. And that, of course, leads right into the very next thing that Paul says to us in this passage.
II. Suffer Hardship with Me.
In verse 3 Paul says, “Suffer hardship with me.” He’s reminding Timothy that Christian life and ministry expects hardship and embraces it. In verse 15 of chapter 1, Paul previously said to Timothy, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me.” Many Christians are stunned and shocked when Christians in their own congregations let them down. But this should not come as a surprise. Paul has been let down in the ministry, and because of this, he can then give a word of warning to Timothy. As such, Paul is saying, “Timothy, don’t go into the Christian ministry thinking that the church is always going to come through for you.” In other words, he is saying, “Timothy, I want you to have a mindset that expects hardship. And I want you to be ready to suffer with me. I want you to have a mindset that expects hard work and suffering in gospel life and ministry.” And that’s so important for us. We live in an affluent society that cherishes its ease and comfort. And when hardship comes along, typically we are surprised by it. We say, “Something must be wrong. It’s not supposed to be this way. The Christian life is supposed to be easy.” But Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid this thinking, and to suffer with him for the sake of Christ.
III. Have the Mindset of a Soldier, Athlete, and Farmer.
In verses 4-6 Paul is saying to Timothy, “I want you to have the mindset of a soldier, the mindset of an athlete, and the mindset of a farmer.” First, Paul speaks of the soldier. In Paul’s day, soldiers for the Roman army were recruited away from their jobs by a captain or a general into their service. They were paid while they were in the service of the Roman army but they were not thinking of their employment back home because “no soldier entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”
Then Paul speaks of the athlete. It is important to recognize that athletes in the ancient Greek games were required to come before the judges before the contest even started and swear to Zeus, and swear that they had been in training for at least ten months. This is probably what Paul means when he says, “You can’t win the prize unless you compete according to the rules.” And unless you can come and you can acknowledge that you have been in hard training for ten months, you can’t even compete for the prize.
Lastly, Paul speaks of the farmer. Before that farmer receives a crop yield, he has got to break up the soil. He’s got to prepare the soil, he’s got to clear it of rocks, he’s got to plant it, he’s got to endure all the threats of weather; and then he receives his reward. Paul gives these images to remind us of the sacrifice and the hard work that is part and parcel of the Christian life. So Paul is saying to Timothy, “Work hard and don’t expect it to be easy.” Paul is reminding us in this passage to serve Jesus Christ at great personal cost and expense and to embrace the hardships that the Lord brings our way in the Christian life.
IV. Remember Christ Jesus.
In verse 8 Paul says, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel.” Be strong in the grace of Christ Jesus. Suffer hardship with me. Remember Christ Jesus. He’s reminding Timothy that the Christian life and the Christian ministry is based on the person of Christ, on the work of Christ, and on the truth of Christ. People in Paul’s day, as well as our own day, have sought for themselves a Jesus Christ of their own making. In response, Paul says, “Remember the true Christ.” My friends, that’s important for us today, because it seems like everywhere you go there’s someone who wants to say, “I like to think of Jesus as….” However, the Jesus of your imagination won’t save you. Instead, we must believe in Jesus Christ as He is offered in Scripture: crucified, dead and buried, raised again on the third day. That’s the Savior of the world. That is the Christ in whose name no one under heaven and earth can be saved apart from His saving grace. So Paul says to Timothy, and to you and me, “Be strong in grace. Live this life in dependent responsibility. Be ready to suffer hardship. Don’t be surprised when hardship comes into your life. And whatever you do, remember Jesus Christ, as He is preached according to the gospel.” May the Lord help us to meditate upon His words to us by His Spirit that we would embrace them in our own experience, and that we would then be good soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ, ready to take up our cross and follow the Savior.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.