The familiar words of 2 Timothy 2:1-7 reveal basic patterns for discipleship and disciple making.
So, my son, be strong in the grace that Christ Jesus gives, Everything that you have heard me teach in public you should in turn entrust to reliable men, who will be able to pass it on to others. Put up with your share of hardship as a loyal soldier in Christ’s army. Remember: 1. That no soldier on active service gets himself entangled in business, or he will not please his commanding officer. 2. A man who enters an athletic contest wins no prize unless he keeps the rules laid down. 3. Only the man who works on the land has the right to the first share of its produce. Consider these three illustrations of mine and the Lord will help you to understand all that I mean.
from J. B. Phillips’ The New Testament in Modern English,
For years the first few verses of 2 Timothy 2 have meant a lot to me. This passage is about life upon life—the investing of one life into another—and the strength and endurance required for doing this.
Power comes from grace
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
First we see the principle of power. The source of that power is grace—the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
A rather simple definition of grace is “favor extended from one person to another.” Paul is instructing Timothy to be certain he understands this first foundation for having an effective life and ministry.
What does it mean to be strong in the grace that is in Christ? What do we need to be reminded of to remain strong in this grace?
First of all is our standing before God—that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
I lived twenty-two years on the wrong side of the cross, never hearing about Jesus Christ and the gospel. When I came to Christ my life changed totally, but during those first twenty-two years I had been involved in a number of difficult situations, two of which ended in felony charges.
I am a Canadian, and when my wife and I later planned to move to the United States to work with The Navigators, we were denied proper immigration status at first because of those felony charges. According to the record I was probably not a reliable character. But after living in the United States for two years on visitors’ visas, we finally received proper status when one of our children was born in the U. S.
That was fine, but I realized God might someday call us to serve in another country. We would have to go through the whole process again, including having to face those criminal charges from my past. Because Canada is a British Commonwealth country, the Queen can grant any Canadian a pardon for his crimes. So I decided to apply for a Queen’s pardon. About a year later I received it. Here, in part, is what it said:
Whereas we have since been implored on the behalf of the said Robert James Sheffield to extend a pardon to him in respect to the said convictions, and whereas the Honorable Solicitor General has submitted a report to us upon this case, know ye that, having taken all these things into consideration and for good causes, we are willing to extend the Royal Clemency unto him. We have pardoned, remitted, and relieved him of and from the said conviction and of and from all and every penalty to which he was liable in pursuance thereof.
It is a complete pardon. When my wife and I recently were filling out required visa forms to visit Australia, we came across the question “Do you have a criminal record?” My answer was no. I had a complete pardon. That is my standing. There is no longer a record of my misdeeds.
How sad it is for many people who are uncertain about their standing in Christ. You can’t be strong in his grace if you have doubts and uncertainties about where you stand with God in his forgiveness.
When I am weak
Being strong in his grace also means remembering that his grace is sufficient for all of life’s problems. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul’s next words—”For when I am weak, then I am strong”—are an apt description of our life in Christ.
Earlier this year a friend of ours died from cancer, a woman of thirty-two who left behind her husband and three small children. I had performed their marriage, and when I heard about her death I telephoned her husband, Dave, to try to offer a word of encouragement. Dave spoke of how God’s grace was with them, and was sufficient even for the children.
He explained that his six-year-old son had gone to kindergarten the morning after his mother’s death. In the morning exercises all the children joined hands to share the highlights of the day before.
When Brian’s turn came he said, “I’d like to share, but I want to be sure no one is sad. Because the greatest thing that could ever happen to a family happened to ours last night. My mommy went to be with Jesus.”
If Dave and his family can find God’s grace in what would appear to be such a tragic situation, then there is plenty of his grace available for you and me in everything we face in life. God’s grace is enough.
An audience with the King
Being strong in this grace also means remembering to come in prayer to the throne of grace. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We should not wait until life’s calamities are upon us to take part in this privilege.
A number of years ago I was in England with a friend who is Jamaican. Since both of us were from Commonwealth countries, we wanted to see the Queen. We went to Buckingham Palace with our cameras and were peering through the gate into the courtyard, trying to catch a glimpse of her. Finally a policeman informed us that the Queen was not there, but at Windsor Castle.
We had come a long way, and a few more miles wouldn’t make any difference. So after the policeman gave us instructions we set off for Windsor Castle. We repeated the same scene—peering through the gate—but the results were the same. We didn’t see her.
My friend and I went through all that trouble in England trying to see someone who didn’t know we even existed. But at any moment any of us can have an audience with the King of kings by coming in prayer to his throne of grace.
So be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus by remembering your standing, the sufficiency of his grace, and going to his throne of grace in prayer.
And the things you have heard me say in presence of witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
Timothy was to be a committed learner. Paul told him to pay attention to “the things which you have heard me say.” In evangelical circles most of us are good hearers and learners. But many of us are not committed to the instruction in the last part of 2 Timothy 2:2—to entrust what we know to others who can then teach even others. We are to be committed communicators, reaching out into this world and touching other lives with what God has given us.
One summer while we lived near Chicago my wife and I began to pray for five couples whom we thought might want to really grow and get involved in discipleship training the following fall. We were convinced that God wanted us to have a ministry with them. I went personally to talk with each of the husbands about what we wanted to do. I said that we would first of all be spending time helping them develop in their personal, daily relationship with the Lord—learning how to have a quiet time if they needed that, or how to study the Bible or pray, or whatever they needed for their growth.
“But there will come a time,” I told them, “when we will ask you to become involved in a ministry outreach with us. We will look for ways to do something with what we have learned.”
They really liked the first part of what I explained. They all wanted help in learning how to study the Bible and to be more disciplined in the Christian life. They weren’t too excited, though, about the ministry outreach. But they all agreed to join us.
After three or four months in the fall of Bible study on basic issues, I felt they were ready for some kind of outreach. I suggested we have an evangelistic dessert. I had never had one before, but I thought it was a good idea. Everyone was to go out and invite at least one non-Christian couple to join us one night the following week for dessert and to talk about how the Bible relates to raising a family. (Most people want help with their families, so we figured it would be a good discussion topic to get them there.) We agreed to it, and prayed.
The next week we had seven non-Christians in our living room together with the five couples in our Bible study group. It was the first time for some of these couples to see that non-Christians would come in your home to discuss spiritual issues.
Furthermore, within the next three or four months, each of those couples held a similar evangelistic activity of their own. They had learned the scriptural pattern of reaching out to others with what they had learned.
Soldier, athlete, farmer
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
Reflect on what I am saying for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
There is a cost to everything. What will it cost us to have a fruitful life and ministry? Paul used the three illustrations of soldier, athlete, and farmer to answer this.
Commitment is required to have an effective life and ministry, and a soldier’s commitment is so total that it could cost him his life. If we are not committed like a soldier to growing and to ministering to others, we will never accomplish what God has in mind for us.
The illustration of an athlete speaks about discipline. At the age of ten I made a commitment to become a professional hockey player. For twelve years I disciplined myself to that end. In athletics, I know what it costs to accomplish your goals.
The discipline our Christian commitment requires is similar. We look for an easy way. Sometimes we are strangled in our comfortable Christian ghetto. But we need to break out, and that requires discipline.
Finally, Paul used the illustration of a farmer. The farmer is a hard worker. If you don’t apply this to commitment and discipline, you won’t get anywhere. How often do we experience hard labor and wearisome toil in our Christian lives?
Some years ago in Canada I joined a labor union to get some temporary work. On my first day of working the foreman assigned me and two other laborers the job of taking out of storage some large sheets of plywood at a warehouse. The foreman dropped us off at the warehouse and said he would be back for us at noon.
As soon as he left, the two other men sat down, lit up their cigarettes, and relaxed. As a Christian who believed in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, I went ahead and worked by myself. This so upset the other two that they refused to be assigned with me the following day.
Many people don’t want to work hard. This is true in the Christian world too. Few are committed to the labor it takes to do the things God wants done. This is what Paul encouraged Timothy to do.
God wants us to be strong in grace. He wants us to communicate to others what we have learned. And he wants us to be willing to pay the price—commitment, discipline, and hard work—of being fruitful in our lives and ministries.