Stand Strong in Christ
2 Timothy 2:1–7
A concert violinist once was asked, “How did you become such a skilled violinist?”
The musician replied, “By planned neglect. I planned to neglect everything that was not related to my goal.”
Skillfulness in anything requires dedication, commitment, and discipline. In this chapter of 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to remain committed to the basic truths he had taught him in preparation for the ministry. Paul’s admonition applies to every Christian—pastor and congregant—even today.
Using the word therefore (2:1), Paul connected what he taught in chapter 1 about loyalty with the instructions to remain strong and steadfast: “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 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” (vv. 1–2).
The word son (Greek, teknon, also translated “child”) does not refer to Timothy as a young child but, rather, emphasizes Paul’s relationship to Timothy as his spiritual father. It is a term of affection and endearment.
“Be strong” literally means to be empowered. Paul wanted Timothy to let the “grace that is in Christ Jesus” empower him. If Timothy yielded to Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit could give him God’s power continuously, as a vine imparts life and fruitfulness to its branches. The secret to growing in power is through union with Christ.
Timothy had traveled with Paul, and Paul discipled him personally. Now, as Paul’s ministry was coming to an end, the apostle told Timothy to commit what he had learned “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (v. 2). The word commit means to “deposit.” Paul expected Timothy to deposit with others the same truth he had received from Paul. These men were to be trustworthy and “able to teach” (v. 2). The word able means “ready” or skillful at training others in spiritual truth. Every pastor should look for a gifted young man within his congregation and invest his life in discipling him.
Paul challenged Timothy to endure the opposition that comes when one stands for Christ. He illustrated his point using the disciplines that soldiers, athletes, and farmers must exercise to accomplish their goals.
Dedicated Soldier. “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (v. 3). When someone enters the military, he or she must be willing to suffer hardship. So, too, Christians must be virtuous, steadfast, and willing to suffer while serving the Lord (cf. 1:8). Paul clearly pictured the Christian life as a battle against Satanic opposition. He instructed all believers to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand and triumph when facing the spiritual battle of wickedness (cf. Eph. 6:11–17). This message applies to every Christian who is committed to serving the Lord.
Paul also wrote, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs [business] of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4). The word entangles depicts being entwined in the affairs of civilian life that come with making a living. Once a civilian enlists in the military, he or she must set aside civilian activities and concentrate on his or her military commitment.
Paul was not saying Christians should divorce themselves completely from secular life but, rather, not be consumed by it. Our primary goal should be to serve Jesus Christ. We all need to work for a living, but not to the point where it hinders our service to Christ.
Paul, in fact, worked a secular job during his missionary travels so that he wouldn’t financially burden those to whom he ministered. He also exhorted the church at Thessalonica, “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God” (1 Th. 2:9). He brought the “gospel of God” to Thessalonica at great personal cost, working long, hard hours as a tentmaker to support himself (cf. Acts 18:2–3).
Many pastors today work secular jobs while planting new churches or reviving established ones. They do so to avoid burdening the people to whom they minister. Thus, Paul could not be accused of being covetous, materialistic, or greedy; and no one could claim he preached for profit. His secular job afforded him the freedom to proclaim the gospel boldly, without speaking to please people.
The apostle mentioned two other functions of soldiers in the Lord’s army. First, their primary concern must be to please the Lord who enlisted them into His service. We must submit our will to that of the Lord. Second, committed soldiers must always be alert because the enemy continually sets traps to destroy them.
Disciplined Athlete. “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). This verse refers to the well-known Grecian games, familiar to everyone in Paul’s day. Training for the games was intense, arduous, and exhausting.
The athletes endured strenuous physical training and dieting for 10 months. They also had to control their thoughts and emotions to be mentally prepared to compete. And they had to compete according to the game’s rules or forfeit the reward. Any violation meant disqualification. Paul drew a comparison when he wrote, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
After winning the contest legally, the victor would stand at the judgment seat (the bema), where the judge would place a crown on his head. The crown was a simple, unattractive garland of woven leaves that soon withered. Though not much to look at, it was a coveted, highly cherished prize.
The day will come when Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to have our works judged (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). Paul strove to receive an incorruptible crown that wouldn’t wither away, which is why he always kept his eye on the goal. Like a contestant in a race, he did not let anything distract him. Nor should we. Crowns will be bestowed on all believers at the bema judgment for a life of service to the Lord.
Diligent Farmer. “The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops” (2 Tim. 2:6). This is the final illustration and finishes Paul’s thoughts on rewards.
A farmer works long and hard to produce crops. Since the fall of Adam, such has been the nature of farming. God told Adam the ground was cursed for his sake, and “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen. 3:19). Farming is difficult, backbreaking work. It involves plowing, planting, cultivating, weeding, fertilizing, watering, pruning, and harvesting. Farmers work whether it is rainy, cold, hot, or dry from drought. They are up before dawn, retire after sunset, and often work to the point of exhaustion.
Paul challenged Timothy not to be lazy or slothful but, rather, to work like a farmer and expend the time and labor necessary in the Lord’s service. Those who do so will receive a well-earned reward at harvest time. For the farmer is “first to partake of the crops.” That is, he is the first one to enjoy the fruit of his labor. This is pleasing in the Lord’s sight. Paul was reminding all of us that the Lord will adequately reward us for serving Him.
Paul then reinforced his illustrations: “Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Tim. 2:7). The Greek word for “consider” means to perceive, understand, think on, and grasp the meaning of what was taught.
The phrase may the Lord give you understanding is better translated, “the Lord will give you understanding.” Paul did not merely suggest that Timothy think on these things; he commanded him to do so as his duty. It was a passionate admonishment. Paul was telling Timothy to grasp the meanings of the three illustrations and apply their truths to his life.
All of us in the Lord’s service should heed Paul’s advice. As the violinist said, “I planned to neglect everything that was not related to my goal.” This should be our mindset too: to give our best to the Master.