Is there ever a time when we don’t require strength? Whether in the practical chores that face us each day or the spiritual ministries given to all believers, we need strength to accomplish the tasks set before us. Regarding the latter, Paul gave his ministerial son in the faith a succinct command that applies to every believer right down to the present moment: “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). Paul’s injunction contains two elements that balance each other and without which it would have been impossible for Timothy to succeed in his ministry, or for us fulfill God’s will for our lives.
What God requires. Anyone who embraces the notion that becoming a believer will dissolve all problems and usher in a lifetime of ease and prosperity is either young and naïve or in the throes of serious deception. “Be strong” is the command because the life and ministry of a believer demand strength. In a very real sense, the unbeliever has no spiritual enemies: he lives his life in perfect accord with the world, the flesh, and the devil—the three enemies of the believer. Prior to giving the command, Paul reminded his young protégé, Timothy, of four tasks that would require strength. First, Paul wrote, “do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner” (1:8). The word of God has never been popular, particularly the doctrines of the church expounded by Paul. But believers must proclaim the Word and live according to its precepts. Second, Paul exhorted, “join with me in suffering for the gospel” (1:8). A call to salvation is a call to suffering. The world hated Christ, and it will hate those who follow Him. Believers must be prepared to experience the pain of opposition. Third, Paul commanded, “retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me” (1:13). When the going gets tough, it’s easy to abandon the tough road. Paul’s warning reminds the believer that there may be easier paths to follow in this life, but there’s no substitute for the truth of God. Fourth, Paul reminded, “guard . . . the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (1:14). The treasure that has been entrusted to the believer is the Word of God, with the salvation, illumination of what is right, and power to live victoriously for the Lord that it offers. For all of these and more that the Word of God mentions elsewhere, Timothy and the myriad believers who have followed in his wake, must be strong. Living the life of a believer and serving our Lord and Savior require steadfastness and determination. Doing what is right always brings opposition; overcoming that opposition requires strength, the strength and persistence of a marathon runner to continue to put one foot in front of another in order to get to the goal. Be strong, Timothy. Be strong, believer. With great blessing comes great responsibility.
What God provides. Yes, we must labor, not in our own strength, but “in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Certainly, this phrase means that we should manifest the virtues that Christ lived out in His life. But, perhaps more than that, it indicates from what source we receive the strength to obey: it is the strength of God within us as we yield ourselves to His will. As he did with what God requires, Paul also suggests several things that God provides to energize us. First, Paul assured Timothy, “I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day” (1:3). I don’t suppose Paul prays for us today, but we have a superior Intercessor, namely, the Holy Spirit, who “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Second, Paul encouraged Timothy to “kindle afresh the gift of God” which was in him (1:6). Every believer receives Spirit-endowed and empowered gifts to be used in God’s service. As we yield ourselves to Him, we exercise those gifts in a way that always accomplishes God’s intended purpose. Third, God has graciously given every believer a spirit, “not . . . of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (1:7). In other words, believers are not expected to generate their own strength but to rely on the strength that God supplies. Fourth, every believer is the recipient of rich “grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (1:9). That grace provides a sure and unending supply of everything we need to be strong and to be victorious in the Lord. To be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, then, is to trust in, rest in, walk in, and work in the power that He provides. May we learn to do so.
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