We are looking at how to have faith in difficult times. Paul and Timothy were both facing difficult times and Paul is teaching Timothy how to have faith during fearful times. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy the apostle Paul has described how to endure as a servant of God. Paul has told Timothy to not be ashamed of the gospel but to hold on to the treasure so that he will find mercy on the final day. In the second chapter of 2 Timothy Paul is going to give pictures of God’s servant. Paul wants to give Timothy and us multiple pictures of what it looks like to be a servant of God. By understanding these pictures, we are going be equipped to have a stronger faith, ready for difficult times.
Paul sets up these pictures in the first two verses of chapter 2 by telling Timothy to be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Paul is going to give him the news he needs to hear to be strong. Be strengthened by grace and take what you have heard taught from Paul and give it to others who will also teach others. This teaching about how to be strong in God’s grace needs to be held on to and passed down to others who will teach others. The gospel is never supposed to terminate on ourselves. We are never to sit on what we know. We are to give it to others who can give it to others.
By the way, I would like to observe that we are told that we can be strong in the grace of God. We will not find strength in the law. We will not find strength in more rules. We will not find strength in ourselves. Thinking about ourselves only demoralizes us further as we see our constant failures. But thinking about the undeserved grace we are receiving in our failure gives us the strength to continue on. We need to look at the grace that is in Christ Jesus if we are going to be strong.
A Good Soldier (2:3-4)
Paul wants us to consider something about good soldiers. Paul says to share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus. What exactly does Paul want us to think about regarding serving as a soldier? Look at verse 4. “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him” (NASB). When a soldier is on the battlefield, he cannot afford to be distracted. A soldier cannot be entangled with other things. In particular, he needs to be focused on doing what his commanding officer says to do. Distractions will keep the soldier from pleasing the one who enlisted him. You need to be singleminded. You need to be focused. You need to not get distracted with the affairs of everyday life.
Do we get distracted by the affairs of everyday life? Do we let our country distract us? Do we let politics distract us? Do we let cultural problems distract us? Do we let our jobs distract us? Do we let our hobbies distract us? Do we let our devices distract us? What is distracting us from having a single focus that God is calling us to have? We cannot please the Lord if we are distracted.
The Athlete (2:5)
The second picture is in verse 5. “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (ESV). Athletes must compete by the rules if they are going to win. What are the rules that Paul is referring to? Consider that the context is about the need to join in the suffering. Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:8. Then he said it again in 2 Timothy 2:3. Share in the suffering. The rules for the athlete in this race is not avoid difficulties but to take up your cross to follow him. The rule to follow Jesus is to suffer with him (Matthew 16:24). The rules of this race is to die to ourselves, not to save our lives at any cost.
The Hardworking Farmer (2:6)
The third picture is the hard-working farmer in verse 6. The farmer must work hard. There is no reward without hard work. There is not going to be a harvest from the crops if the farmer does not put in the work. But it is the hardworking farmer who gets the reward. The hardworking farmer is not empty-handed but enjoys the reward first for the hard work done. Paul has put these three pictures together to bring about an important teaching point. Holding these pictures in mind, he wants Timothy to consider two examples as he thinks about these images (2:7).
Remember Jesus (2:8)
Jesus is the ultimate example. Jesus is our visible proof that enduring hardship and suffering will be worth it because of future glory. Think about how these three pictures fit in illustrating the life of Jesus. Jesus had a singular focus and was not distracted from his mission by the everyday affairs. He competed by the rules, willing to suffer shame, suffer pain, suffer rejection, and suffer death. He received the reward of his work and his suffering as he was raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand.
Remember Paul (2:9-10)
Paul says that he is following the same path. Notice that Paul does not say that what Jesus did is the gospel. Rather, Paul says that this picture of Jesus is MY gospel (2:9). This is my good news. Paul is suffering even to the point of being bound in chains like a criminal. Paul has a single focus. Paul is running by rules. Paul also expects to be rewarded just like Jesus exemplified. This is his point in verse 10.
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:10 ESV)
I hope you carefully listen to what Paul said here because I do not think he said what we would expect. I expected Paul to say that he endures everything for the sake of Jesus because he suffered for me. So now I am glad to suffer for him. I am sure that is true and it is a faithful teaching that is found elsewhere in the scriptures. But that is not what Paul said here to Timothy. Look again at what he said. Paul endures everything for our sake. Paul is enduring everything for the good of those who are the elect. What is Paul doing? Paul is sacrificing himself and suffering so that others may also obtain the salvation that is in Jesus with eternal glory. That is the example of Jesus that Paul wants Timothy to remember. Jesus sacrificed himself and suffered so that others may obtain salvation and eternal glory. Paul says he is in chains and suffering, sacrificing himself, so that others may obtain salvation and eternal glory. This is what it means to be a good soldier, an athlete who competes, and a hardworking farmer. Remember Jesus, the model that Paul is following and calling for Timothy to follow. This is the model for us to follow as well. This brings Paul to the teaching he needs us to hear in verses 11-13.
Four Amazing Truths (2:11-13)
First, if we have died with him, we will also live with him. This is your first piece of hope and encouragement. This is the only past tense condition in verses 11-13. He is looking back to what has been done for you in Christ. In Romans 6 Paul declared that our baptism symbolized this truth. Baptism symbolizes that we died to the old way of life and were raised to walk in a new way of life (Romans 6:4). Our old self was crucified with him so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6). Listen to what Paul says just a couple sentences later. “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8 ESV). You have nothing to fear and no reason to be ashamed because you will live with him if you have died with him. Now notice how verse 11 started. This is a trustworthy saying. In other words, you can hang your life on these four amazing truths. If you have given your life to Jesus so that you are dead to yourself, you will live with him. Paul knew in whom he believed and was fully convinced that this would be experienced in the final day (2 Timothy 1:12).
Second, if we endure, we will also reign with him. The second amazing promise for Timothy and for all of us. If you will endure, you will reign with him. I hope we can appreciate this imagery. There was some time ago that a Christian asked me a question about a song we sang. The song was Low, In The Grave He Lay. If you have grown up in the pews, the older songbooks had the chorus read, “He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, death he overcame.” New songbooks changed this line to, “He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.” The question was about if this line change was accurate. Where does it say that Jesus will reign with us? This is one place in the scriptures where it does. If we endure, we will reign with him. Do not be ashamed. Do not give up. Do not let go of the treasure that you have. Be willing to suffer. Be willing to give your life. Be willing to lose your life. You will reign with him if you do. This is a trustworthy statement. You can depend on this like a guarantee. I cannot even begin to imagine what this will look like that we will reign with him for all eternity. I cannot get my mind around it to try to illustrate it or describe it. All I can say is that the ruler and creator of heaven and earth has said that if you will endure, he will put you on the throne with him.
Third, if we deny him, he will also deny us. It is a picture of disowning Jesus. It is the idea of renouncing Jesus. If you do not stand up for him, he is not going to stand up for you. If you disown him, he will disown you. If you renounce him, he will renounce you. We cannot give up. You cannot quit. You cannot stop pressing forward. It hurts to think about how many people who have walked with God but then stopped because life became difficult. Now you might be thinking that you need to give up because you have failed God. You have many sins. You have horrible sins. You have all kinds of things you have done. But do not stop reading. Listen to how Paul ends with this four amazing truth.
Finally, if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. We are going to fall. We are going to fail. We are going to be weak in the faith. We are going to let God down. But God remains faithful. God keeps his promises. When we falter, God remains faithful. When we step out of the boat and try to have the faith to walk on water but sink, God remains faithful and will pull us out of the water. When we say that we will die with him, but then we falter like Peter did, God remains faithful and calls us back to him to feed his sheep. He stays faithful to us if we will get back up and follow him.
Oh, these must have been encouraging words for Timothy. You have not been given a spirit of fear and timidity. Get back in there and keep fighting. Do not be ashamed. Hold on to the treasure and deposit given to you. Join with me in suffering because it is not too late to step into this walk. It is not too late to be the good soldier, to be the competing athlete, and to be the hardworking farmer. Think about what we have learned from Israel’s history. Did God reject Israel because the people sinned? Not at all for we read God receiving the repentance of the worst king of Israel, Ahab, and receiving the repentance of the worst king of Judah, Manasseh. Why did God deny Israel? He denied them because they denied him, no longer seeking him, no longer desiring forgiveness, no longer trying to walk with him, and no longer listening to him. Your faith will fall. God will remain faithful to you.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Get up and get back in there. Remember Jesus and follow his example. This brings us back to where this lesson started. Look back at verse 1. Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. God cannot deny himself and he is a merciful, compassionate, loving, and forgiving God. Remember Jesus and remember the grace found in him. God’s plan for your life is not for you to be comfortable or to avoid hardship. God plans is for you to endure as a soldier for the Lord and you will receive great reward.