We are strengthened by grace, v.1. The grace of God strengthens us; not only does it bring salvation but it trains us (Titus 2:11-13) to press into God and pursue holiness. It’s not a cheap grace that means we are free to sin and not worry about holiness. Grace strengthens us; it means we are dead to sin and alive to Christ.
Like Timothy, we are strengthened by Paul’s teaching too (v.2), which gets passed on faithfully from one to another.
Paul then challenges Timothy to live in the good of grace with three metaphors of hard, disciplined work.
Soldiers on active service don’t expect easy or safe! They take hardship and risk as a matter of course. Tertullian wrote that no soldier goes to the front from a comfortable bedroom, but from a tent. John Stott wrote “In the second world war people frequently said to each other with a wry smile ‘There’s a war on’ – a watchword sufficient to justify any austerity, self denial or abstention from innocent activities because of the current emergency”. Soldiers are focused on the job at hand, ignoring civilian pursuits that distract others.
Race running is an often-used metaphor in the New Testament. Here Paul reminds Timothy that he needs to be like a law abiding athlete. In that day they didn’t win medals but were crowned with an evergreen wreath. Paul has written in the book of Romans that the Christian is no longer under the law, but grace. We are not bound by the law, because it was weakened by the law of sin and death (you sin, you die). So Jesus came to fulfil the law, by His perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. We are now under the law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:1-4). Grace enables us to obey God way beyond the law’s requirements, motivated by the love of God and empowered by the Spirit. Paul urges Timothy, and us, to run like law-abiding athletes – full of grace, the Spirit and new covenant teaching!
Farmers work hard. They get up early, work hard and sleep well! Our family of churches runs a training programme called “Farming God’s Way” in rural Africa. One of the issues there was laziness. Farmers sowed the crops late and so the harvest wasn’t as good. They needed to sow the seed so the crop was at full height by midsummer’s day to maximise the ripening power of the sun. Paul wants Timothy to be like a hard working farmer – not lazy, so that he would get a first share of the harvest – a harvest of holiness and of souls.
Several times in this passage Paul warns of foolish arguments – hinting at it in v.4 and speaking clearly in v.16 and v.23. Today we have internet nonsense; a decade or two ago it was the latest paperback with some strange teaching that ‘will definitely bring revival in’. In the same way, around Paul’s time there were people coming up with all sorts of strange teachings and arguing over silly details. Paul warns Timothy to keep off it and learn to rightly handle the word of God. Do join us at Going Deeper as we do that on the 2nd Sunday evening of the month (although the next one will be on the 18th Nov 2018).
Paul also warns Timothy not to get distracted by youthful passions, but to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with others – the rest of the church.
In his swan song, to his disciple Timothy, he urges gentleness as he deals with opposing teachers, praying that God will bring them to repentance.
Be strengthened by grace and work hard for the Lord!