If you attempt to live the Christian life, it won't be long before you realize how difficult that is in our society. By living the Christian life, I mean: living a holy life and aggressively seeking to sharing your faith-- to make disciples. We have a responsibility to share the truth of the gospel with others and this is not easy. People living in sin do not what to hear the truth of God's Word.
Paul is writing to his son in the faith, Timothy. In these first seven verses of chapter two he is calling Timothy to be strong in the ministry that God has called him to. Paul calls Timothy to be strong in the face of adversity and carry on the ministry of discipleship.
It's easy to become discouraged in the ministry of making disciples. It's easy to become weary, weak, disillusioned, fearful, even shallow in your confidence because the battle is hard, it's incessant, and we're human. That's where Timothy is, and it's where we often find ourselves if we are honest.
This section is for us, we need to learn to be strong in the ministry that God has called us to. Verses 1 and 2 are a call to "be strong" in the ministry of discipleship-- teaching others.
2 Timothy 2:1-2 (NKJV) You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Paul calls Timothy to be strong and that is achieved by learning to rely on the only reliable source of strength that we have -- "The grace that is in Christ Jesus."
I submit to you that those are much more than mere religious words; they are words of great, practical value. The only way you can keep your inner life strong is by a relationship to the Living God. That has been proven again and again in human history. If you think you can stand against the forces of today's society by leaning on your friends, your family, your guru, your psychiatrist, or your counselor, you will find they will crumble when you need them most. The only reliable source of strength is in what Paul calls here, "The grace that is in Christ Jesus." We sing that in our hymns: "On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand." That expresses what the apostle is saying here.
The word "strong" here is the Greek word endunamoo, it means: "to empower:--enable." It is not being strong in your own strength, it is trusting in His.
That which strengthens us is God's grace, Paul says, "the grace that is in Christ Jesus." A peculiar thing about grace is, it is never available to strong people.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
That is what makes it difficult for us to get hold of it sometimes. We are continually assaulted today with a barrage of propaganda teaching us that the way to be strong is to develop some quality about ourselves, some hidden power, some reserve of personality, some right that we need to demand and stand on and insist upon. But if you believe your Bible, that is the way to be weak -- and that is what proves to be the case. God's grace alone is strong enough to handle the pressures of a fallen world, but the only way you can lay hold of the grace of God is to acknowledge that you are so weak you do not have anything else that will hold you. So the first thing that grace demands is that we admit our weakness, not our strength.
J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, was a marvelous exemplification of what we are talking about. Here is a quotation from his writings:
"It makes no matter where he places me or how; that is rather for him to consider than me. For the easiest positions he must give me grace, and in the most difficult, his grace is sufficient. So, if God places me in great perplexity, must he not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? As to work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible or so difficult, but the weight and the strain are all gone. His resources are mine, for He is mine."
One of the greatest enemies of Grace is human pride. It is the worst of the mental attitude sins because it amounts to blasphemy. "I will be my own God." There is great pressure toward arrogance in the United States. Our country has a successful, affluent society with many opportunities for achievement and rewards, from childhood on. Status and upward mobility are available to everyone, and it's easy to get the big head, to think that we have accomplished something, to have the "self made man complex." Victory over this very subtle and devastating mental attitude sin requires a thorough understanding of the doctrine of Grace. The first step in victory over pride (and growth in Grace) is to be aware that pride is part of everyone's Sin Nature. Pride is self-sufficiency and does not need grace. Grace is God giving us what we don't deserve, and the proud person thinks he deserves everything. The second step is to confess sinful pride when you recognize it in yourself.
There are many symptoms of pride. Indignation at someone else's behavior, mistakes, shortcomings, lack of discipline, or failure to measure up is an indicator of self-righteousness, whose basis is pride. "Well, I never..." these are key pride words.
Romans 2:3 (NKJV) And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
This verse commands that we should not judge others as if we ourselves had no areas of weakness. Self-promotion, and the demotion of other people is pride, it is the failure to think Grace.
Another symptom of pride is lack of forgiveness, the holding of grudges. Pride prevents a forgiving attitude. How many marriages break up because of this? How many people would be happy on the job, instead of miserable, if they could just forgive the boss or a fellow worker for doing something dumb? Everybody does dumb things, but failure to forgive is pride. Other indicators of pride are complaining, griping, maligning, gossiping. Most of the sins of the tongue have their roots in pride. When you see sinful pride in yourself, confess it! If you see it in others, pray!
We can only be strong in grace as we apply the means of grace-- Bible study, payer, fellowship. As we spend time in these disciplines, our pride will be revealed and dealt with.
The second thing Paul says is that we are to pass on the truth of God to others, who will be able to hand it on to still others. He says, "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." There is a tremendous responsibility to communicate truth to your children, to your friends, and to your neighbors.
That word is not addressed to young pastors only; it is addressed to Christians everywhere. We all are expected to be communicators of the truth, to pass on what we ourselves are deeply convinced is true. We are all to be making disciples. The word "teach" here is didasko, which means: "to instruct, to teach." Paul is saying, "I taught you, you teach others who will in turn teach others." We are ALL called to be teachers. Someone taught you, you are to teach someone else.
If you were to spend one year teaching someone the truths of God's Word and at the end of that year they went out and did the same along with you, in fifteen years you could have taught 8,192 people. Think about that!
We are all to be disciples and to make disciples and that means; you have to be diligent to learn the truth of God's Word, and you must live it out, model it and teach others to do so also.
This isn't easy, so in verses 3-6, Paul gives Timothy three metaphors to encourage him in this work. All three, the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer are taken from common life and would have been very familiar to Timothy. They emphasize certain things that are very important to spiritual strength. We're to have the dedication of a soldier, the discipline of an athlete, and the diligence of a farmer.
2 Timothy 2:3 (NKJV) You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
The use of a soldier is a call to recognize that we are in a battle, a spiritual war. Christian ministry is war. It's so easy to forget that we're in a war because we live in an environment that while philosophically is hostile against Christianity, legally and politically it's not. So we're not really battered by the system or called to give our life. So, we seem to sink to the lowest level because sacrifice isn't called for. Being a Christian won't keep you out of the university, it won't alienate you socially, it won't keep you from getting a good job, it won't get you thrown in jail, and therefore, it's hard for us to be heroic soldiers, so we tend to forget we are in a war.
Most Christians are so far from the front line that the signs of war are never seen. If you're not trying to live as salt and light, you won't see much of the battle.
The dedication of a soldier involves two things. First, it involves endurance in suffering. The words "endure hardness" are from the Greek word kakopatheo, it means: "to suffer hardship." It could be translated, "take your share of suffering or ruff treatment." It implies that every Christian must expect some measure of ill-treatment as every soldier does; fatigues, burdens, and deprivations. You're going to be hurt, you'll be wounded, expect it, it comes with war.
I am grateful for the realism of the recent movie "Saving Private Ryan." with regard to war. Thanks to that movie, we have seen the awful gore, the blood, and mud, sweat and tears of war paraded before us.
War is an evil thing; there is nothing glorious about it. War results in death, the maiming of bodies and the destruction of minds. War is an ugly and a vicious thing. War is part of the consequences of evil in human society, so it is unavoidable.
A soldier has to suffer. War is not a picnic. A soldier does not go out to enjoy life, to see the world, and have many wonderful experiences of adventure and travel, despite what the recruitment posters say. That does have some element of truth about it, but that is not what one does as a soldier. If warfare breaks out, it is going to mean he is faced with ugly, arduous, uncomfortable living.
Paul is saying that the Christian faces the same thing. We are not called to be Christians to merely enjoy life, to have everything around us pleasant and comfortable. That has been the deadly danger of evangelical Christianity for far too many decades. We all want the life of ease and comfort.
The second thing about a soldier is that he requires a degree of single-mindedness; soldiers have only one objective-- to please their commander.
2 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV) No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
That was particularly true in the Roman army; a commander would gather around him men who knew him, loved him, trusted him and would follow him anywhere. Those were the ones who won the great battles for Rome.
The apostle picks that up and says that is the way Christians ought to be. Our one objective is not to get something for ourselves and something for the Lord, but to please him.
The objective is that, in the midst of whatever we do, whatever our line of business, we are manifesting the character of Jesus Christ. We are seeking to be pleasing to him. The point here is that we are to renounce everything which hinders the real purpose of the soldier, which in our case is to make disciples. There is nothing wrong with the affairs of this life until they entangle you.
There is a type of Christianity around today, which I call "Amway Christianity," which suggests that God's reason for coming into your life is to make you rich. It says that if you are faithful to him, if you are a good, hardworking salesman, you will end up wearing furs and driving Cadillacs, and that is the sign of God's blessing upon your ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth of the New Testament. There you find that Christians sometimes expected to have their property taken away, and they accepted that with good grace. The letter to the Hebrews commends the Christians for having accepted with rejoicing the spoil and the loss of their property because they knew they had a better home in heaven.
That is the motivation of a Christian soldier. The metaphor of a soldier speaks of dedication. Are you dedicated to Christ to the point where you are willing to "endure hardness" and "not get entangled with the affairs of this life?"
Then, Paul says, "Making disciples requires the discipline of an athlete":
2 Timothy 2:5 (NKJV) And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
The word "competes" here is the Greek word athleo, which means: "to contend in competitive games."
Every athlete learns that he has to deny himself certain things if he wants to win. He cannot eat just any kind of food; he has to give up chocolate sundaes, french fries, and all the rich, luxurious indulgences that others can freely have. He may have to sit and eat things that taste like cardboard while others enjoy something tasty, but he does it. The athlete does not indulge in certain pleasures.
When I wrestled in high school, it involved discipline to diet, run wind sprints, and run up and down stairs. For what? A corruptible crown.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
As Christians, our discipline is not for a corruptible crown, but all we do counts for eternity. Our reward is incorruptible.
The victory belongs to the disciplined. Most people never reach their goals or accomplish what they could have had they been disciplined.
A Christian is called to say "No" to many things today. There are visual stimuli on every side that tempt us to give in, to indulge ourselves, to seize hold of life and enjoy it now. But a Christian soldier has to say, "No! I won't do it. Those things lead to distraction, to disruption and to a lessening of spiritual intensity in my life; I won't do them." That is the discipline of an athlete. So, this second metaphor of an athlete stresses the necessity for self-discipline.
Then, Paul says, those who are making disciples need the diligence of a farmer:
2 Timothy 2:6 (NKJV) The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.
The emphasis there is upon the word, hard-working. The words "hard-working" are from the Greek word kopiao, which means: "to work to the point of exhaustion." Making disciples is not just floating through life with God working for you. Rather, it is you working for God, enjoying the privilege of being his faithful servant through whom he does his work today. There is no greater calling than that. Yet, the attitude of many Christians today is, "I've become a Christian in order to get God to bless me, and work for me. If he doesn't do it the way I want, I'm ready to quit. I don't want anything to do with Christianity when it gets difficult." That's the very thing the apostle is warning against in this passage.
Being a committed disciple maker takes long hours of labor. A Christian is called upon to reprogram the computer of his mind to think differently than other people think. That is not accomplished easily. It takes hours of reading the Bible and reading books about the Bible, until you see life the way the Bible sees it. It takes, perhaps, hours of listening to tapes, attending services, sharing and relating with other Christians how they are struggling and letting them see how you are. It takes diligent labor. It is not something that comes automatically because you happen to be a Christian.
The farmer's life is seen in drab contrast to that of the soldier or athlete. A soldier is often decorated for service beyond the call of duty; he wins medals and decorations which are awarded with praise from his commander-in-chief. The athlete wins prizes and trophies for his outstanding achievements in his field of competition; and as a rule, the crowds cheer and applaud the winner of such a prize.
The farmer leads a quiet life, primarily free from excitement, far removed from such glamor as attends the life of the soldier and athlete. The farmer pictures a man who works to the point of exhaustion often in perpetual hum-drum duty. He plows, plants, fights the elements; too much rain, not enough rain, he fights bugs, weeds and animals that would eat his crops.
Like a farmer, we might have to rise up early and work hard, we do so in expectation of a harvest. Paul always sets before us that life is not the end of the story, that what we may have to give up here is made up for abundantly when we step out of time into eternity. That is the day for which we labor.
If you are going to be strong in the ministry of discipleship, you must see yourself as a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer; you must have dedication, discipline and diligence. This is why there are so few people doing the work of the ministry -- it's difficult. We want the easy road, the path of least resistance. When we face difficulty, our first thought is to quit, to give up.
I want to share with you the story of a Bob and Michelle, who exemplify all of these; they are dedicated, disciplined and diligent. I think their story is a rebuke to all of us who whine and complain about lives difficulties.
Robert Smithdas is a very remarkable man. Bob is completely deaf. He is not only deaf, he is totally blind. Bob defies his disabilities with every breath he takes. Every day is a battle for normality. Bob lives in a world that is almost impossible for sighted, hearing people to comprehend.
Bob lives with his wife Michelle, who is also deaf-- blind. They live independently in their own home and manage their own chores. They cook dinner by touch. Imagine slicing onions in the dark or not being able to see the flame on the stove. One of Bob's specialties is chicken cacciatore. He taught himself to cook, just as he had to teach himself how to talk.
Bob says, "I like to try my own recipes, and I think I am about the only deaf--blind person, or perhaps even hearing/blind person in this country who uses a pressure cooker."
Bob Smithdas has lived his life in a pressure cooker. He cannot hear his own voice, but he learned how to talk again after he became deaf and blind at the age of 4. He fought for an education at a time when deaf--blind was a synonym for dead end. Helen Keller had broken the mold early in this century. She became the first deaf--blind person to earn a college degree. She had to overcome both prejudice and frustration.
Helen Keller put a dent in the barriers, but it was Bob Smithdas, 50 years later, who became the next deaf--blind person to graduate from college. He was at the top of his class. Teachers called him brilliant, and Bob Smithdas didn't stop with college. He then earned a master's degree from New York University--the first graduate degree ever, anywhere, for a deaf--blind student. He has also received two honorary doctoral degrees. He has become a teacher, a poet and a husband. Bob teaches at the Helen Keller National Center on Long Island with his wife, Michelle.
Michelle was born sighted, but hard-of-hearing. By 16, she was totally deaf, unable to hear even her own voice. She heard others through sign language. But in her senior year of college, Michelle was severely injured in a snowmobile accident. Michelle's recovery seemed to be going well, until one fateful Sunday afternoon, everything turned black.
"All of a sudden, things went out, went dark. I, of course, the first thing I thought was the light bulb. The light bulb burned out. So I ran to the nearest light switch, and I flicked the light switch up and down. No lights. Where was the window? I saw no lights. Right then and there, I began to panic. I decided to call for help. 'Mom, Dad. Mom, Dad! Where are you?'" She was deaf, now she is blind also.
Michelle met and married Bob and they have been married for almost 23 years. "Good years," says Michelle.
There are 70,000 people in the United States who are both deaf and blind, but Bob is one of the tiny few with a special talent. He can read your words by putting his thumb on your lips, and his fingers on your vocal cords. It's very difficult, so he generally relies on being able to communicate hand-to-hand with a manual alphabet. Touching is the way Bob and Michelle communicate, they finger spell words, letter by letter, into each other's palms.
Finger spelling was the key to Michelle's education, as it was for Bob. They both had sighted helpers to communicate class work. Michelle earned a master's degree from Columbia University's Teacher's College, with five years of dedicated volunteer help from Linda Stillman. During the lectures, Linda sat next to her and finger spelled everything.
Michelle is now one of the blind leading the blind, teaching others to cope with the darkness in their own lives.
Bob reads about 20 Braille magazines a month, ranging from The Economist to Popular Mechanics to Martha Stewart Living. Michelle complains that she's always tripping over his books and magazines.
Their teletype--style phone accepts typewritten input from them and provides braille output on this tactile--sensitive board. Michelle's computer works the same way.
They wear pagers that vibrate differently for the telephone, for the doorbell or even for a "where are you" message from another room.
Barbara Walters asks, "In spite of the good things, Bob, what is the hardest part of being deaf and blind? What is the most frustrating?"
Bob replies, "At this stage in life, I am very used to being deaf--blind. But I will admit that I miss not being able to see my friends' faces or hear their voices. Remember, deafness may take you away from sound, from music. Blindness takes you away from scenes. But deaf-blindness takes you away from people."
Barbara Walters asks, "Michelle, do you ever say, 'Why me?' Or do you think this happened for a reason?"
Michelle says, "No. I do not question it. I should say that I am rather happy for what I am able to do and for what I have." Can you imagine being deaf-blind and saying that?
Bob wrote this poem, "I praise my God, for he has guided me through the darkness too intense to find the day. I praise my God, for he provided me with music when all sound had died away. Into the songless darkness of my days, the light of hope and song of love have crept, until my spirit sings this hymn of praise to Him who woke me when my whole life slept."
Bob and Michelle are truly strong in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are dedicated, disciplined and diligent in the midst of great adversity. And so can you be as you live in dependance on the grace of God.
Notice what Paul says in verse 7:
2 Timothy 2:7 (NKJV) Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.
The word "consider" is the Greek word noieo, which means: "to exercise the mind, think it over, ponder." Paul is saying, "Think this over, the committed Christian life of making disciples is not easy, you are to be a soldier, an athlete and a farmer the work is hard but God will provide all the grace you need as you live in dependence upon Him."