Have you ever found yourself on a sloped surface that was impossible to stand upright and not slide down? Several years ago I was cleaning off a slope of some saplings that were growing along the edge of a steep and muddy embankment during in a service project. The idea was to cut out all the little saplings, seed the ground with grass seed and spread a type of straw over the muddy banks to give the seed time to take root without being washed away. I first tried moving horizontally on the slope, but the mud and the slope pulled me down uncontrollably. After a few wide rides downhill, I finally tied myself to a larger tree and moved along the embankment with the anchoring effect of being tied to a fixed station. That seemed to work well.
What about when your life is sliding down a steep embankment of truly depressing issues? How do we anchor to a truly positive and hopeful outlook on life when things appear to be crumbling? Haven’t you ever felt like “Grumpy the Dwarf” and you know you aren’t right, but you can’t seem to find enough to grab onto to keep you from sliding downward? Long ago, God opened the door in pictures to an anchoring rope of hope that was fixed to the steady tree of spiritual guides – offered in the form of “people pictures”.
Key Principle: When you cannot figure out how to gain perspective and godly attitude, fix your heart on some of the steadying examples that God provided around you, and anchor your hope by following their pattern.
When you are in trouble and being pulled downward, you need to pattern as an anchor to a fixed hope – and often that is easier to see in pictures than long descriptions. Paul went into the daily imagery of the Roman home and told Timothy to gain comfort by following the path that people have cut and groomed before him – and it was a great way to help him see truth. Why? If you have ever gone tromping through woods, lost and unsure of where your campsite was located, you know the comfort of rediscovering the worn trail. New paths are adventuresome, but old paths bring comfort in the knowledge we are on the right track and can expect to find the place others found before us.
Think back with me for a moment about a guy who was sunk into a cave filled with the stench of human waste and rotting flesh. The time was the first century, and the occupants of the “Mammertine Prison in Roman” were likely joined by an Apostle of Jesus Christ, who had been greatly used by God. Facing death, it would be logical to assume the letter we have today about HOPE was an encouragement note written by friends of the condemned man facing death – but the very opposite was true. The letter of Second Timothy is an encouragement note BY THE CONDEMNED to his younger and less experienced friend who was depressed and indecisive. Tim needed hope and inspiration from Paul, who was running out of time to help get Tim back on his feet in ministry. Paul may have lost his freedom, but Tim lost his HOPE – and that is a much worse situation.
Men and women, we simply cannot survive without hope – it is as essential over time as food and water. Hopeless people dry up inside and cannot continue the journey. Yet I submit to you that our enemy is wounding many a believer today. We again need to grab the pattern – the proven path – seen in seven examples of workers who were known to Timothy. Fortunately, God doesn’t just post expectations – He offers patterns.
First, a word about the Goal
The text opens with an instruction that is the point of the rest of the reading. Tim’s goal was to grow to be strong – not in himself – but in the rich and undeserved supply of God’s strength and mercy best pictured in the UNMERITED FAVOR God placed on Tim’s life. Paul said it this way:
2 Timothy 2:1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
It was the unmistakable goal of God instructed through Paul that Tim grow to full strength, and set aside the weakening influence that shame and fear had on his life. His strength was not to be physical, but spiritual, and it was not to be earned, but bestowed. Tim was a dry man that needed to stand under the torrential, drenching rains of God’s grace. Favor was freely available, but required abandoning self-trust and works, and deliberately repositioning himself under the constantly renewed deluge of God’s love.
Grace is unmerited favor.
We cannot earn it – we have it when we accept it. It is grasping that I do not deserve God’s goodness and favor – but in His love He has decided to give it. It is humbling and de-throning, while at the same time exhilarating… I have a personal beloved relationship with God! It is a gift, but still requires some deliberate action on my part to acknowledge and accept it.
This Greek verb here is actually in the passive voice, so it’s more accurately translated, “Let yourself be strengthened” or “be empowered by” God’s grace.
Paul tells Timothy that “You won’t get strong by drawing from your own strength and working harder at ministry for God!” Don’t grit your teeth and push, but open yourself to God’s strength, from the grace found in Jesus Christ.
One Pastor shared: “Your life for God is like a power tool with an electrical plug. When your plugged in God’s grace flows through our lives to empower us to do that which we could not do on our own. The love we need to care about people, the patience we need when we’re frustrated, the courage we need in the face of fear…all these things come from being plugged into God’s grace. Lives that don’t plug into God’s grace won’t have the resources to leave a very significant mark.”
Before we look at the people pictures – we need to know there are some GRACE KILLERS.
Clinging to guilt kills the shower of grace. It is still transfixed on our ability and performance to “earn” God’s tenderness – and it hasn’t really grasped the gift nature of grace. Some people cannot accept God’s grace because they do not think themselves worthy – and they are right – but that isn’t relevant. Grace isn’t given to the worthy – it is given to those who place themselves in God’s hands and believe His Word knowing they don’t deserve it.
Our desire to earn favor equally kills the shower of grace. Years ago I heard of a professor who taught this in a practical way. I believe it was Charles Stanley that I took this clip from:
One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough. The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, “You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.” Wow? We sat there stunned. “Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?” Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room. When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page. Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally. One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A.
Accepting God’s favor is part of surrendering our own ability to be good enough. It is never an excuse to become lazy in our walk – only a demand to become realistic in what WE can and cannot do…When we DO RIGHT DEEDS, it is not to be loved by God – it is to honor His undying love for us that was already obtained by grace through faith.
How do we walk in surrender and obedience, all the while basking in the joy of receiving God’s grace and growing in His favor? In short, we look at some patterns that make the method clearer:
Seven “People Picture” Patterns to Follow:
Paul showed Tim how people in his everyday life experience exhibited aspects of growing in grace:
1. A Steward (“entrust” is par-at-ith’-ay-mee or “to place beside or near or set before as in food” – the word for work of “house master” of apprentices; “teach” is didasko – 2:2). This was the most trusted household manager, normally a slave himself, who kept a fine house running smoothly and could be entrusted to take the directives of the owner and see them through. In the later English manor, this position was more that of the butler, or chief steward.
2. A Soldier (“Stratiotes”: common foot soldier, “soldier in active service” is from “Strateuomai or soldier on active campaign – 2:3-4). Roman life intersected soldiers of the Empire all the time, and their singularity offered a picture of onen aspect of growing in grace.
3. An Athlete (Athleo – 2:5) was also a common person, many of whom had become celebrities in the time of Paul and Timothy. Roman baths had gymnasia, and amphitheaters had practice fields adjacent to them in Rome and Pompeii – along with other places.
4. A Farmer (Georgos – gheh-ore-gos’ is a tiller of the soil, or a vine dresser – 2:6) was also vital to the wine stores and vegetable markets of the ancient Roman city. It is likely Paul had in mind the work of the vine dresser, who was also the mine maker – and avid tester of each cask during preparations.
5. A Workman (Ergates: household or general laborer – 2:14-19) was a part of every large household. Senators at the time of the first century had them by the hundreds, but many Romans had a few. The work done in our homes by machines were performed by household workers – everything from a doorman who allowed people entrance, to the servants that kept the laundry services, etc.
6. A Vessel for God’s Glory (Skeuos: household utensils, domestic containers- 2:20-23). Romans loved stuff. Great homes possessed storerooms of vessels. In every sleeping quarter there was one particular pot that was of vital importance – a chamber pot. Urine was transported to the nearby collection vats for the fullers to use as part of their cleaning ammonia at the local laundry, but it had to be carried in the designated pots that could not be used for other purposes.
7. A Servant (Doulos: household slave, i.e. devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests – 2:24-26). Slaves abounded in Roman life – but many lived for the promise of getting out from under servitude by buying their way into freedom. The manumission or freeing was common. The household slave was more domestic and clean than the household laborer – who often worked behind the scenes in the gardens and on infrastructure of the home. The doulos was the slave most often seen in the home, directed by the householder.
Seven simple snapshots teach how to grow in grace and walk in hope. No single snapshot tells the whole story – but collectively they offer a great set of values and practices.
Picture One: Steward or Householder (2:2):
2 Timothy 2:2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
The Roman world had artisans, but most of them were trained in apprentice relationships in the home slave system. If the householder you served under believed you were ready to showcase your ability, he assigned to you a “masterpiece” – the one work that would show you were ready to be a journeyman and lead others in work for your master. In Timothy’s case, he had as a starting place in training for the world of ministry in the pattern of life he observed in the Apostle Paul himself.
NEVER underestimate the powerful work of quietly walking with God over a long season of life. The example is a blessing to those who see it – whether they admit it or not! When NO marriages last, one quickly believes the institution is unrealistic. When no one walks in sexual purity, it starts to look impossible to do. One of the power trax for teens at the conference I was teaching in was led by a young woman for teenage girls. It was entitled: “Twenty-eight year old virgin!” The point was that it can be done, and there are incredible benefits to following God’s Word in purity. How encouraging to a young person whose very education system has largely given up on self-discipline and moral restraint in that area!
At the same time, note that equipping of an apprentice was an understood relationship and an intentional act. This was MORE than just being a good example – this was forming a life intentionally! It had specific parameters and was a defined connection. Where can we see this? Note what Paul told Tim.
First, you heard me teach things – so this wasn’t just playing basketball with youth – it included intentional instruction and intense observation.
Second, the lessons were not private – but in front of many other witnesses. There may be others in the room at differing stages of development watching the same example of “how to do it”.
Third, they were meant to be passed on. Old practices had value, and new technology would never replace knowing how the whole procedure worked.
Finally, Tim needed to be selective about who he should, as the rising leader, dedicate passing truth off to. That means Paul offered four important thoughts:
• Mentoring is intentional and includes Biblical content.
• Mentoring can be in private or group settings.
• Mentoring has as its goal the equipping of the one being mentored so that they would pass it forward to the next generation.
• Mentoring was to be passed to both faithful and able people. The disciple must expect to tailor their schedule to receive – and not expect the mentor to change their schedule to conform to the followers.
Equipping the next generation isn’t simply a program. It is a mindset before it is a practice. It is intentional time spent both in example and instruction that will grow young believers to maturity – and mature believers ought to be taking time to be involved doing it on every level of ministry. Disciples should show themselves to be faithful, and seek someone to pattern them, so they can learn and pass on the things God teaches them!
How exciting that God would shower us with grace and then use us to pour out that grace on others! Paul overtly mentioned at least four generations mentioned here – Paul as the Church Planter, Timothy as the younger Pastor, the disciples of Timothy, those future disciples of that group that Tim would reach….
Imagine the joy this past week of watching HUNDREDS of young men and women approach an altar to receive Christ. This was not at some powerful band led worship time. It was not a high emotion packed speaking. The greatest response in size was the night a very meticulous presentation of the substitutional atonement of Jesus Christ was spelled out. No fanfare, just truth and prayer – and more than one hundred poured forward to receive the Lord. It was like being in a Wesley revival of long ago. God’s grace and the hope of life in Jesus is still drawing young lives by the score!
It wasn’t JUST exciting for the students who received Christ. It was exciting to watch many of them who knew Jesus learn how to prayerfully and carefully communicate Christ to others of their generation. Some were learning about Christ in the room – others were learning about SHARING CHRIST by watching someone who really knew how to present the case.
An Enlisted Soldier in Active Service (2:3-4):
2 Timothy 2:3 Suffer hardship with [me], as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
Paul turned his attention to the Roman soldier – and that was a very common image since they were everywhere in the Empire. The point of Paul’s words to Timothy was simple – determine the expectation you have as a follower of Jesus. In short: Endure hardness (2:3). Paul overtly called on Tim to stop asking for a lighter load and work hard for a stronger back!
Soldiering is an extremely demanding way of life that is designed to discipline every aspect of a soldier’s character. They are exposed to the elements, to danger, to times without food or shelter. U.S. Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady, whose F-16 fighter jet was shot down in Bosnia some years back evaded Bosnian Serb soldiers for six days until his rescue by a Marine Corps search and rescue team – entirely based on his trained of depriving and disciplining himself. He lived by eating bugs and licking the dew from plants. Being a soldier is demanding. Paul’s focus in this passage is not so much on fighting, but on the single minded, self-discipline that remains un-entangled from all but that which would please his commander – Jesus.
One of the most encouraging parts of the coming darkness is that it will separate out the sunshine followers of Jesus. No more will the selfishness of the prosperity doctrine or the compromise of the “positive thinking” doctrine drive the church. The times ahead will force us choose carefully to stand with Jesus in truth and toughen up. Departure from the Word is making our culture into the most victimized, bullied and powerless generation. Jesus will call us to toughness.
The chief interruption to standing tough in troubling times was not FEAR, but rather DISTRACTION OF DAILY LIFE. Paul reminded Tim that a Roman soldier could not entangle himself in all the affairs of life as a civilian – but lived to please his general. In the patronage system of the period, Tim knew that men counted on their general for salary, retirement and every benefit. They were not to work on the side – but to place their full trust in their general to meet their every need – both then and in the future.
An Athlete (2:5)
2 Timothy 2:5 Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.
If being an athlete meant anything in the text, it was the picture of one who learned to discipline their lifestyle AND FOLLOW THE RULES of the contest (2:5). The victorious results come to those who train themselves to walk correctly – both in the game and out of it. An ancient athlete knew that in order to compete in the better games, they had to meet certain requirements – i.e. train for two years before you could qualify to compete.
Apparently, that is still the case. In the magazine “Scientific American” they describe some of the kinds of training Olympic athletes go through: “Training the Olympic Athlete” (6/96).
“1,000 hours of intense training will only achieve an improvement of a single percentage point in an athlete’s performance. Yet often a single percentage point is the margin of victory in today’s Olympic events.”
The single greatest point that Paul made to Timothy was this: “Tim, there are rules, and they apply to you as a leader just as much as any other part of the team. You aren’t above the rules, and you aren’t exempt from them. You will never be what you were called to be making up what is right and wrong by yourself. Ask God – He has a whole book of answers to what He believes is right!
Growing in grace is not an exemption from walking well – grace is embraced when responsibility to obey is enjoyed and celebrated.
A Tiller of the Soil (2:6-13)
2 Timothy 2:6 The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Paul moved to the farm – many of which were vineyards tilled by skilled vintners. He pleaded with Tim to see the need for consistent diligence and put every effort into joining the work! Tim needed to gain ownership of the work (2:6). He needed to face the fact that the work may well cost him – it is serious work (2:7-13) and he needed to “own” it day after day.
The words “hard working” refer to work that involves anticipated difficulties, toil and focus of daily attention. Rising at the crack of dawn and working in the blistering heat until your fingers bleed was not abnormal for one committed to his product. Staggering into your bed at nightfall, only to do the same thing the next day – wasn’t light work – ask anyone who does it daily. Farmers from cheese producers to vintners were daily testing their product, adding and changing conditions to meet the demands of the taste, etc.
Everything great work comes with a price. Keeping a marriage together through years comes with a price. Graduating with your college degree comes with a price. Starting your own business and building it into a successful business comes with a price.
Right in the middle of the metaphors of the work, Paul stopped for a little hymn – an anthem of the Person and work of our Savior!
2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. 10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus [and] with [it] eternal glory. 11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
“Look carefully at the message of 2:8-13 – Picture your life as being like a wagon wheel. Each spoke on the wheel represents something in your life: your spouse if you’re married, your job, your kids, your church, your house and possessions, how you spend your time, and so forth. Where does Jesus fit on the wheel? Is He just another spoke? This text is encouraging us to make Jesus the hub, the source from which all the spokes meet.” (adapted from sermon central illustrations).
Here we confront a repeated phrase for the first time in this second letter: “trustworthy saying” we’ve found in 2 Timothy, but we encountered two “trustworthy sayings” in 1 Timothy. Most Bible scholars believe these trustworthy sayings were songs that were popular in the church at the time. Perhaps some of them were lyrics from worship songs they sang in their worship. This trustworthy saying is a series of four conditional statements (2:11-13):
a. The first conditional statement is that if we died with Jesus, we will also live with Jesus. We died when we gave Jesus our life – and the promise to live with Him is one we are more and more focused on with each year of following Him!
b. The second conditional statement promises that we will reign with Jesus if we endure. The word “endure” is “hupmeno” (the ability to remain under) and described Paul’s attitude toward his suffering in 2:10. Endurance is remaining under pressure without slipping out. He didn’t say if we failed to endure we would lose salvation – but he did imply we would lose reward – and that is something to consider!
c. The third conditional statement warns us that Jesus will disown (arneomai: to deny) us if we disown him. No true follower of Jesus Christ would betray Jesus. The idea is “to repudiate,” and it refers elsewhere in the New Testament to apostasy, or walking in complete denial of things people thought I believed.
d. The last conditional statement is a promise of God’s faithfulness even when we are unfaithful (Apisteo: not walking in God’s view). Now clearly “faithless” doesn’t mean “having no faith in Jesus” but rather lacking trust to walk practically in faith’s view, even though we still believe.
The promises of following a RISEN SAVIOR are sweet. We should recognize that the days ahead will take work – but not grow long faces about it. Jesus is Alive! He is at work! The culture’s darkness will help us see the difference between followers and occasional fans of Jesus! Why the long faces?
John Bisagno former Pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church tells the story of his coming there to candidate for the position of pastor many years ago. He said that as he entered the auditorium it was dimly lit, with just a few people huddled together. They were singing some old slow funeral type song that was depressing. Later that day he took a walk in downtown Houston and came upon a jewelry store. It was some sort of grand opening and there were bright lights and a greeter at the door to welcome you in with a smile. Inside there was a celebration going on. There were refreshments and people having a good time talking and laughing with each other. They welcomed him and offered him some punch. He said that after attending both the church and the jewelry store, if the jewelry store had offered an invitation, he would have joined the jewelry store! (sermon central illustrations).
A Household Laborer (2:14-19)
14 Remind [them] of these things, and solemnly charge [them] in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless [and leads] to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly [and] empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 [men] who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”
Paul told Tim that he would need to see the example of the “Workman” (Ergates: household laborer – 2:14-18). This image may be less familiar to those of us that didn’t grow up in a culture where half of our town consisted of slaves and household servants – but the Roman system survived on them.
Household servants bought and brought every item of food into the domus, or house. They were ordered by the domestic householder who knew the schedules of each of the house’s occupants, and had clothing, food and transportation ready for the master and mistress of the house. Their diligence in every task set reinforced the status of the home – and Romans were VERY CONSCIOUS of status. They were kept on task and hushed from gossip and wasting time as the householder pushed them to keep busy getting tasks accomplished.
Tim was warned to focus on the task of discerning and instructing God’s Word – not the enticing rabbit trails of the enemy (2:14-23). Paul knew the enemy would most often use very natural tendencies to sidetrack a worker’s enthusiasm. These tendencies include:
a. Lazy misinterpretations or understudied inaccurate handling of the Word (2:15).
b. Intruding distraction of divisive opinions that must be spotted and avoided in teaching (2:16).
c. Jumping on board with the latest “wave” or “craze” that isn’t rooted in systematic and thorough teaching of God’s Word and leads people to conclusions that either aren’t in the Word or openly contradict it (2:17-18). In the case he was dealing with it was the explorations of allegorical teachings concerning the Resurrection.
d. Opening the doors to wicked practices would also be prevalent among poor teachers of God’s truth (2:19). Instead of teaching people about the lines of God’s desire – they would draw new lines in wickedness that God would not have sanctioned.
Domestic Vessels (2:20-23)
20 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these [things], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love [and] peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.
There are no nice ways to describe this section of Scripture but to offer this pointed image. In every home there were cooking pots and chamber pots. Each had their purpose. You couldn’t use a cooking pot in a “pinch” for a chamber pot and expect it to be still useful as a cooking utensil – it was dirty. If we want our Master to be able to use us for proper things, we need to withhold our vessel from being used for lusts that defile. If we found ourselves in sin – cleaning was needed for usefulness to be restored.
A Household Slave (2:24-26)
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses [and escape] from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
A servant that won’t listen to the householder will be delivered to the paterfamilias – the male head of the Roman home. If they won’t listen to him, they can be lashed, beaten, starved or even – in extreme cases – executed. One story from the time of Augustus told of a man who wanted to feed his slave to lampreys in a lake out back for breaking a goblet on the floor by accident.
There was little or no protection for a slave and this word bondservant is exactly that. Yet, many did passively argue, drag their feet, spit in the soup and fight the charge of their position. God’s servant cannot act in this way – they must stand for truth, but not fight in ego. They must be gentle in correction of those in their care – but not overlook sin.
Here is the point of the lesson in growing in grace and living in HOPE:
• If we follow the pattern of the believers before us who did it well.
• If we adjust our expectation to hardship- we will grow in discipline.
• If we will know the rules and play in them, we will have significant victories.
• If we will be diligent to work consistently and hard, we will taste some good fruits of the labor!
• If we will order our priorities, we will be able to set aside distraction for true blessing!
• If we will recall what we are made for, and keep ourselves from defilement, the Master will chose to use us!
• If we won’t fight the Master’s command – we will be helpful to His cause!