Take Strength in Christ (2 Timothy Sermon 4 of 9)
November 01, 1998 | Andrew Davis
Preserving the Gospel, Boldness & Courage
I. Introduction: The Lesson from the Acorn
I really love this time of year. Don't you? Fall, that gorgeous weather. I love the way the sky looks, the blue. There's no humidity, it's just crystal clear, and the way the sun just grabs the trees, and just causes them to glow, yellow and orange, I just love it. Been living in the city the last five or six years, and it's just wonderful to get out here in the country where it's so gorgeous, isn't it beautiful?
I was thinking about a story I heard a little while ago as I thought about this text. It's a story of a grandfather walking through the woods with his grandson, and the leaves were crunching under their feet and they had that... There was that musty smell that's just so beautiful in the fall and they were looking all around. Beautiful day, just like today. And the grandfather stopped under a big old oak tree, maybe 100 years old, and they looked up and grandfather said to the grandson, "How many acorns do you think there are up there on that oak tree?" And the little boy said, "Oh I don't know, Grandpa. That would take us hours to count them, if we could climb up all those branches and get to them." He said, "Well," the grandfather said, "Well, how many acorns do you think there are in this whole forest?" He said, "Well, we need an army to count all of those. Take us probably two or three weeks." Then the grandfather reached down and picked up a single acorn and said, "How many acorns do you think there are inside this acorn?" That's a profound question, isn't it?
How many acorns are there inside a single acorn? If you had the time and wanted to follow it, you'd see that acorn drop down into some soil and grow up into a sapling. And over a period of time, it would become an acorn bearing oak tree itself. The tree will outlive you, by the way, but if you wanted to stick with it year after year and count all those acorns, you could do it. But that wouldn't be the end of the story, would it? Because then those acorns will reproduce as well. This is the principle that God has built in to his physical universe and we see it everywhere, don't we?
It's from the very beginning, where God created trees with fruit and seeds according to their kind. And God gave the command also to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply physically. It's one of the few commands that we've actually obeyed from God, subdued this world, filled six billion people. But what we don't realize and what we don't think about is that God works the same way spiritually, in multiplying the church. And as we look at the passage today, 2 Timothy 2:1-13, we're going to see some very practical principles of how God builds churches. These are things that God has been doing for 2000 years. He's not going to change. And if First Baptist Church Durham is going to be built up to be strong and to glorify God, we're going to follow these same ways.
Now, we've already seen in Chapter 1, the aged apostle at the end of his life, under the persecution of the Emperor Nero. He knew his time had come. He knew it was time to die. And so he sat down with a the few days that God had left to him, and he wrote a letter to Timothy, and he entrusted him a sacred charge, the gospel ministry. And as we've been reading through, we've already looked at three of those charges that he's given. And in Chapter 1:6, he tells Timothy to fan the flame of his spiritual gift through his preaching. And then in Verse 8, he tells him to not be ashamed of Christ, but ro stand firm as a Christian. And then in Verse 14, what we discussed last time was the command to guard the good deposit of the gospel, to protect it so that we pass it on unchanged.
But all of that really is just preparation for what goes on in this chapter. It's getting Timothy ready to advance with the gospel, not just to stay protected and in a shell, much like that acorn has a protective shell, but it's not to be split open, and out comes that oak tree at the right time. In the same way, we're not just supposed to protect the gospel. We're supposed to advance with it. We're supposed to see it multiply. And then he uses in Chapter 2, a series of six metaphors. We're going to look at three of them today. The metaphor of the good soldier, the dedicated athlete, and the hardworking farmer. Next week, we'll look at the approved craftsman, the clean vessel and the servant of the Lord. But all of these are taken together to show how God wants the church to grow and how he wants it to multiply.
So, let's look at the 13 verses of Chapter 2:1-13, and see what God has to say to us.
"You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 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. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel for which I am suffering, even to the point of being chained like a criminal, but God's word is not chained. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Christ, we will also live with Him. If we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown him, he will also disown us. If we are faithless, He will remain faithful for He cannot disown himself."
II. Paul’s Fourth Charge: Take Strength in Christ (vs. 1)
Now, I think Verse 1 contains the main charge of this chapter. Take strength in Christ, we could call it. Strengthen yourself in the grace that's in Christ, but then there's a wisdom to how that strength is to be used. In Verse 2, the strength is to be multiplied widely. In Verses 3 through 7, the strength is to be concentrated totally. In Verses 8-13, strength is to be unchained conditionally unconditionally.
Now, let's look at the first charge in Verse 1. It is the fourth charge in this letter. And he says in Verse 1, "You then my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." That's really kind of a fascinating way that he says it. First, he reminds him of his love for him. "My son," he speaks gently to him. But then he gives him a command. It's an imperative in the original language, a command, but it's passive. It's a command to do something, but it's really a command to receive something, that you get something. Now, how can that be? How can we be commanded to receive something? Well, that's the mystery of the way that God works in building His kingdom. We step out in faith. We challenge ourselves to grow. We take the gospel and share it and that puts us in a position of being needy. We need the strength of Christ. And I believe the kind of strength that we're talking about here, in these 13 verses, is only given to some Christians. It's given to the Christians who need it. To those Christians who don't need it, this strength is a foreign and alien thing. They don't understand it.
But you see the Apostle Paul, he knew all about this kind of strength, didn't he? He knew about a strength that came from inside, from Jesus Christ. You really see Paul's whole Christian life this way. Now, we know that Paul was on the road to Damascus. He was going to Damascus to persecute Christians. He ended up becoming a Christian. Only the grace of God can make such a change. What an awesome thing. But what's fascinating is what happened immediately after that. He wasn't a baby for long, if you can say it that way. He immediately began studying the scriptures, and he saw in the Old Testament that Jesus of Nazareth was definitely the Messiah predicted there. And you know what he did? The first Sabbath, he got up in front of all those Jews and proclaimed openly that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. What a shock that must have been. Wouldn't you have loved to have been at that worship service, to see the looks on people's faces, when Paul got up, and instead of saying the things he'd been saying, went 180 degrees the opposite way and started preaching Christ?
And it says in Acts 9:22: "Yet, Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews." Isn't that a great word? He confused them, baffled them, "by proving that Jesus was the Christ." See what it said there? Saul grew more and more powerful. Where did that power come from, that strength? It came from the Holy Spirit, who is now in him. You will receive what? Power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. Paul immediately came under the control of that power, and He preached Christ fearlessly. And you see that power actually working through all of Paul's Christian life. He describes it doctrinally in Colossians 1. He says, "We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ." Now, listen to this. "To this end, I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me." Who's doing the labor there? Paul says I'm the one doing the work. But where does the energy come from? It comes from Christ.
I think there's a labor in the gospel that we don't know much about these days. That word labor, I think we associate it with pregnant women who are about to go through it. And we say, "Oh they're laboring." That's hard, it's difficult. There's work. Or we think about the labor of a farmer that we're going to talk about. There's hard work. Do we know that hard work, that labor? Do we understand what Paul is talking about? Paul says, "To this end, I labor with his energy." Paul needed that energy, didn't he? He was constantly being drained and needing to be charged back up again. And so, he says, this is familiar to many of you, Philippians 4:13 "I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." He knew about that strength.
And in Ephesians 6:10, he recommends it, even commands it, to the Ephesian Christians. He says, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God…" So be strong in the Lord. There's a strength that you need. And then at the end of his life, here in 2 Timothy, turn over, if you would, in Chapter 4. Chapter 4 verse 17, Paul describes his trial. And in Verse 16, "At my first defense," he says, "No one came to my support. Everyone deserted me." And then he says this, "Yet, the Lord stood at my side," and did what? "Gave me strength, so that through me, the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it." You see, there he is at the end of his life, taking strength from Christ again. He needed it his whole life. He needed it every day. Do you need that strength of Christ or is this a foreign thing to you, an alien thing? If it is, then learn how to be a witness for Christ and get to the point where you need the strength, renewing so that you're in the labor of the Kingdom.
Now, you could ask, "How do I strengthen myself? How does it work?" I think there's a beautiful illustration of this in Romans Chapter 4. In Romans 4, there's a description of Abraham. Now, God had made a strange promise to Abraham, you remember? He said, "You're going to bear a child in your old age. Even Sarah, your wife, is going to be the one." And it says in Romans 4, it says, "Without weakening his faith, Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, since he was about 100 years old, and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. That's where the strength comes from.
God has given us a promise, hasn't he? He's given us a promise that we have the power of the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses to the end of the world and to the end of time, to the end of the earth. And we've seen that promise fulfilled for 2000 years. Jesus Christ has advanced his kingdom, hasn't he? We're on the winning side, we really are. We're seeing the power grow. There's a promise. If you're feeling weak or wavering in your faith, as God has given us a mission field here in Durham, you wonder, can we really do it? Can this be a strong church, a powerful church? If you're feeling like that, look to God, the one who made the promise, the way Abraham did. That's where the strength comes. He was able to draw strength from that by understanding who God was. Now, that's the charge. "You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ."
III. Strength Multiplied Widely (vs. 2)
But there's a wisdom to how the this strength is to be used. And Verse 2 shows the wisdom of God. This is a tremendous verse. I really don't know any other like it in all of scripture, for it describes very clearly the power of multiplication spiritually. He says "The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men, who will also be qualified to teach others." Now, when I was a student at MIT, as I've told you, I was involved in the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. This verse was their foundational verse for multiplication ministry. They derived a the principle from this, just like the acorn. That Christians are to be multiplying. They're to come to faith in Christ, and they are to learn how to share their faith and lead others to Christ.
And so they have what we call a win, build, send ministry. They win people to Christ, they build them up, and then they send them out to win others to Christ. That should be our approach too, here at First Baptist. I love their slogan that they're using now. Their slogan is that they're turning lost sinners into Christ-centered laborers. Isn't that beautiful? Turning lost sinners into Christ-centered laborers. That's our goal, our desire. To see people come in through these doors, to come into our ministry, who don't know Christ. And to see them come to faith in Christ, be built up through the discipleship here, and go out and lead others to Christ. It's a multiplication. The whole point is growth. But it takes the strength of Christ to make it work, because there's obstacles that Satan puts in our way at every turn.
I've said to you before, I love to see this row upon row of spiritual grandparents and great grandparents. You know what I mean by that? You can be 30 years old, and be a spiritual grandparent. Lead someone to Christ. Train them up in their faith. Send them out and see them lead someone to Christ. Now, you're a spiritual grandparent. Well, or become a great grandparent. Keep working with those people. That's multiplication. Isn't that beautiful? That's how the strength is to work.
IV. Strength Concentrated Totally (vs. 3-7)
Now, in Verses 3-7, we see the strength concentrated totally. God is a God of means. And I think this is something that we have neglected to consider recently, how much work it takes for a church to grow, how much work it takes for this multiplication ministry to occur. Only by dedication, by a concentration of effort, do we get anywhere in a Christian life. And so Paul brings in three metaphors, three illustrations: The good soldier, the dedicated athlete, hardworking farmer.
Metaphor #1: The Good Soldier (vs. 3-4)
Verse 3-4, he says, "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." That's a good soldier. Now, I don't think anyone has ever enlisted in the Army looking for a life of comfort and ease. If so, they were sold a bill of goods by their enlistment recruiting officer. But I don't think they're supposed to do that. They're supposed to tell the truth, at least. "Be all that you can be," and all that. But the first thing you end up doing is going to boot camp where you're trained. Hardship and discipline, right? They get you ready. They break you down. They build you up into a unit, so that you're able to serve as a good soldier. Of course, nothing compares to the hardship of the actual warfare itself.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Valley Forge. I don't know if any of you have been there outside of the city of Philadelphia. It's a marvelous place. I was there right before January first, I think it was December 31st, New Year's Eve Day, and it was cold. There was no snow on the ground, but it was cold. And I thought to myself, can you imagine spending a winter out in these shacks, where wind was blowing through? And why did those men of in the Continental Army endure that hardship? Because they believed in the cause that they were fighting for. And many time, George Washington would kneel in prayer, as he'd see blood on the snow from people who had no shoes as they're walking through the ice in the snow. Dedication. And he would pray. God raised up a Prussian drill instructor named Baron von Steubing, who came in and trained those men how to drill. And by the time that winter was over, they were a well-structured, organized army.
What Paul is saying here is it doesn't work any differently in the church. There's a discipline, there's an organization, there's a structure to being a servant of Jesus Christ. "Endure hardship with us," he says. And then he says, "no one serving as a soldier gets involved…" That's a little too weak, actually. I love the NIV, but here's a little too weak, gets "entangled" is a better word, "entangled in civilian affairs." Imagine, if you will, a woolly sheep wandering off and going where it shouldn't go, and suddenly brushing up against some thorns. What do you think is going to happen with that wool? It's going to get entangled and it can't get away. It can't pull away. Well, if we go back away from the sheep idea to the soldier, that soldier has gone AWOL. It's gone over the hill. Now, it's entangled in something, can't get out. A lot of Christians like that these days. They get away from what God wants them to do, away from serving Christ as their commanding officer, and they get involved in civilian affairs. What's a civilian affair? Just something that's not part of your job as a soldier.
It might be okay in itself, but we are an age of entertainment, aren't we? We're an age given to things that we like to do. Satellite TVs with 395 stations. I don't know how many there are now. VCRs and Internet and all kinds of things, which are fine in themselves, but they can entangle us if we're not careful. We can get involved in things and we waste the most precious thing that God's given to us, which is time. And God's given us that time to build his kingdom, and we as good soldiers can't get involved or entangled in things that are beside the point.
Metaphor #2: Dedicated athlete (vs. 5)
But then he brings in another metaphor, another illustration of the dedicated athlete in Verse 5. I think, here in Verse 5, of an Olympic athlete. I was talking earlier this week to some people about Olympic athletes. I think they're some of the biggest gamblers in the world. Don't you think? They give absolutely everything for one moment every four years. And if they get injured right before the Olympics, they're out. And all those many hours, at least in terms of their goal, are wasted. I was thinking about Olympic race walkers. Have you ever watched that? The 50K race walk. Don't they look odd the way they kinda waddle, like ducks? It's a strange kind of thing. You know we've actually never won a medal in race walking before. So, any of you, you might be the first. Give yourself totally and dedicate yourself to be a race walker.
But you see, according to the rules, you have to keep your foot on the ground at all times, one part of your foot at all times. And so they're trying to move as fast as they can while keeping some part of their foot on the ground at all times. Runners, they're flying through the air, really. If you ever see a photo of a race, you might not see any feet on the ground at all. But a walker has to keep a foot on the ground at all times. You have to compete according to the rules, and they have people watching the whole time to see if you keep your feet down on the track. And if you don't, you're disqualified.
In the same way, we as athletes for Jesus Christ have to follow the rules. There's certain ways that Christ uses us. And if we don't follow the rules, we're disqualified. There are moral laws. There are certain things we're going to talk about next week. 2 Timothy 2:19 says, "That everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." You have to be holy in order to be a servant of the Lord. But you also have to give yourself totally in dedication, the way an Olympic athlete does. And don't underestimate the amount of dedication it takes to really be useful to God.
Metaphor #3: Hardworking farmer (vs. 6)
And the final metaphor is that of a hardworking farmer in Verse 6. He says, "The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops." Now, I'm thinking now about Jamestown in Virginia. I don't know if you know anything about that, but the English settlers came over there. They got busy right away and planted some crops and did some things to get ready, but then they noticed some dirt, some clay that was in the area that had a slight kind of orange or maybe even a gold color to it. Now, what do you think they started to do? They stopped their work and started digging for gold. Do you think they found any in Jamestown, Virginia? No. No, that was out in California and it would take another 300 years before they would find that.
But this was a big diversion, and they were looking for gold. And they got into more and more trouble because the crops, the harvest, the work out in the garden was being neglected. And so, the famous John Smith, you know about him from the story of Pocahontas. I don't know about all the things in that story, but this is true. What he did was he called the whole colony together and said, "You will not survive if you keep doing what you're doing. You must work the fields." And therefore... And he took a line from the Apostle Paul. "If you won't work, you won't eat." If you keep looking for gold in the clay, you're not going to eat dinner tonight. Well, what do you think that did? That brought them to, very quickly, didn't he? They all started working and that colony survived. It was the first successful English-speaking colony in the New World.
Well, God is calling us to the same kind of dedication to a task. He's calling us to give ourselves fully to working the field that he's given us. He's given us the field, hasn't he? He's given us an area. We're not responsible for every place in the world. We're responsible for here. This is the field that's been committed to us. We must work that field with that dedication. Now, we see three metaphors. We see the good soldier, dedicated athlete, we see the hardworking farmer. What holds these three together? I think it's one thing. Total concentration to achieve a worthy goal. Do you see that? Total dedication to a task, to achieve the task. The good soldier concentrates on the pleasure of his commanding officer. The dedicated athlete wants that victor's wreath. The hardworking farmer wants to survive, wants a share the crops. In the same way God is calling us to a total dedication for a purpose.
V. Strength Unchained Conditionally (vs. 8-13)
Now, what is that purpose? It's right in the middle of the next section, Verses 8-13. Now here, we see the strength. We've seen the strength, which is supposed to be multiplied widely, a strength which is supposed to be concentrated totally, but now, we get to the whole point of it. What is the purpose of all this? And Paul brings in the Lord Jesus Christ, he brings himself in as an illustration or a motivation, and then he brings in an ancient Christian hymn. All of them are for the same purpose, to say this, that nothing that is worthwhile is ever easy and nothing that's easy is ever worthwhile. That's total dedication, willingness to suffer. And he starts by saying this. Remember Jesus Christ.
Now, isn't that a little strange that he needs to tell Timothy to remember Christ? But you remember last week, we had the Lord's supper. The Lord instituted that so that we should not forget what He paid for us. We are not our own, are we? We've been bought with a price. And so the Lord's supper comes in to remind us regularly of the price that Jesus paid and that he owns us. He gave Himself for us, fully. So he says, "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel..." So he reminds Timothy of Christ. And it's very similar to the words in Hebrews where it says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning, and shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." That's the way Jesus lived his life. A total focus on the pleasure of the Father, an accomplishment of an end, no matter what it cost, and it cost Him His life, but he did it for joy. He did it for the joy that would come at the end. He did it for our joy. The fact that on that final day, we are going to get to stand with Him and look at the face of the father and enjoy the glory that comes only through Christ.
Well, you know that same joy was motivating Paul too. He said, "This gospel has gotten me into trouble. It's actually gotten me into chains, but God's Word is not chained." Isn't that powerful? Think about that, the unchained Word of God. You may chain the messenger, you may even kill the messenger, but you can't stop this gospel message. Brothers and sisters, we're on the winning team. And the more you invest in this gospel, the more you're going to see fruit in your life, the more you're going to see victory, the only kind of victory that Jesus gives through the gospel. God's Word is not chained.
Now, what do you think of when you think of October 31st? What's the first thing that pops in your mind, October 31st? Halloween. I thought you'd say that. Well, when I was a kid, the first thing that popped in my mind was Halloween and candy and all that kind of thing. You know what pops in my mind now? Reformation Day. I think about Martin Luther. I'm a church historian, so I have re-trained my thinking. I'm not thinking about Halloween anymore. I'm thinking about Reformation Day. Because on October 31t, 1517, Martin Luther took his life into his hands and he nailed those 95 theses up, up on that door and began the Protestant reformation. Now, back then, you didn't just get shunned, or people ignore you, or treat you like you were something strange when you preach that kind of a gospel. They killed you. They hauled you up in front of the authorities, and they burned you at the stake, that's what happened.
But God preserved his life and he did a great work and the reformation was born, powerfully. Well, he put that sentiment, the motivation into a hymn. We sing it frequently. A Mighty Fortress is our God. How about that fourth verse where he says, "Let goods and kindred go." That means that your material possessions and your family, let it go. Don't be concerned about it. This mortal life also. Don't hold your life dear to yourself. "The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still." Isn't that powerful? It's the same thing Paul said, "You can kill me, you can enchain me, but you can't stop this message." "The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever." Isn't that powerful? And Paul says, "I'm willing to go through all of this for a purpose." "Therefore I endure everything he says for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory."
Now, do you remember last week, we talked about the river of salvation, remember the Nile River? We traced it back to its source. The source of your salvation was what? The grace of God. The grace of God was given to you before the world began. God has chosen you, and loved you, and called you out from this world to be his own. And Paul said there are people who God has been loving since before time began, and I'm enduring everything for them, so that they may have eternal life. It's all for a purpose. And Paul, just like Jesus, kept that purpose in front of him and he said, "I'm willing to do it, just so that they may know salvation." We have to be inflamed by that same purpose.
The Ancient Christian Hymn
Paul finishes with the words of an ancient Christian hymn, said it's the trustworthy saying. "If we died with Him, we will also live with Him." What does he mean by that? Some people say he's talking about martyrdom. Willingness to lay down your life for Jesus. I think not. I think, actually here, he's talking about the same thing he was talking about in Galatians 2:20, when he said, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me."
"I died." Saul of Tarsus said, "I died. That's an old life, it's gone. I have a new life now. And this life, I'm living for Jesus. And everything I do, I do for Him." So, if we died, we'll live with Christ. And if we keep at it, if we endure, we will reign with Him. There's the positive motivation. But then the negative motivation, or really warning. If we disown Him, He will disown us. If we are faithless, meaning unbelieving, the word in the original means having no faith in Christ, God will be faithful because He can't change. Our faithfulness doesn't change God. He's always gonna be faithful to who He is. That's the kind of God He is. And that faithful God is working through people just like you and me, to bring a harvest in, a harvest for Jesus Christ and for eternal glory.
Now, God has committed this harvest field to us. He's called us to work. He's given us the strength that is in Christ Jesus. He's called us to multiply that strength as we make disciples for Him. He's called us to total dedication just like that good soldier, that dedicated athlete, and that hardworking farmer, giving it all for a purpose, and that purpose is that the elect may know the eternal life that is in Christ Jesus with for the eternal glory. That's Paul's purpose. That should be ours as well.
Now, it could be that some of you are part not of the harvesters but of the harvest field. Maybe that some of you haven't given your life to Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners just like you and me. Today could be the day of salvation for you.