Strong in Grace - Part 5
Theme: Standing Firm
This week’s lessons remind us that we do not only need God’s grace for our salvation; we also need God’s grace to provide strength to carry on in God’s service in the midst of difficulties.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1, 2
But there is something about this that is even more frightening than the vices Paul has listed, and that is what he says in 2 Timothy 3:5. For having described this evil future culture by the words “ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Paul adds what is surely the most shocking of all these statements, namely, “having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
What does that mean? A “form of godliness” must refer to those who are pretending to be godly, and since this cannot describe pagans, it must describe those who are within the church. In other words, the problem is not that the world will be like what Paul is describing but that the church will be. It is that the church will be indistinguishable from the world and be equally corrupt, at least when you look beneath the surface. What a problem! No wonder Jesus asked his disciples, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
What is young Timothy to do when he is faced with such a tremendous problem? Is he to look around for some new strategy? Is Paul going to reach down into his bag of ministerial tricks and come up with a new and secret weapon to fight this end-time apostasy and calamity? It is significant that Paul does nothing of the sort. Instead of something new, he tells Timothy to keep on with what he has. The Bible is all he needs, because the Bible is from God. It is “God-breathed.” Therefore, it contains within it the power of God, and it accomplishes the will of God. Timothy is to be assured of this, and because he is assured of it, he is to continue to teach the Bible faithfully and with confidence. He is not to quit: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15). It is another way to saying what we have read several times earlier. Paul means, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:1).
The last chapter brings the entire letter to a moving climax. In this chapter Paul does not describe another “pressure-point” but rather gives Timothy a final, solemn charge:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead,
and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word;
be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great
patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with
sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great
number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will tum away from
the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure
hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry (vv. 1-5).
What a tremendous charge, especially in light of the situation in the church and world that Paul has described earlier! How could Timothy possibly hope to carry it out? As I read this, it seems to me that there are three answers.
First, this is God's charge to Timothy and the charge of the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely Paul's charge. It is why Paul begins as he does, saying, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and dead, and in view of his appearing and kingdom...” The work may be hard, but it is no less a One than God who has given it to us. We cannot take his commissioning lightly. We must be faithful to the end.
Second, others have done it. Paul had an even more difficult time of ministry than Timothy, but Paul had come through, having “fought the good fight,” “finished the race,” and “kept the faith.” When we are tempted to quit, let's remember that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man”—even the temptation to quit—and that “God is faithful” and will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13). And there is this too: “he will also provide away out so that [we] can stand up under it.”
Third, God will provide the grace we need to be faithful. This is what the end of 2 Timothy says. It looks like mere personal notes, as in most of Paul's letters. But it is far more. It describes the situation Paul is in. Demas has deserted him. Everyone but Luke has departed. Alexander the metalworker did him great harm. At his first trial, no one came to his support. But the God of grace was with him. “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth” (v. 17).
There it is! If you determine to stand for God without quitting, you find that God will stand with you. He will rescue you from every evil attack and in the end bring you “safely to his heavenly kingdom” (v. 18).
- What does Dr. Boice say is the most shocking of Paul’s list of vices in 2 Timothy 3? Why does he reach that conclusion?
- What does Paul tell Timothy to do in order to deal with this great problem?
Application: List the items Paul gives in his charge to Timothy. How can you live out those same ideas in your own life as a Christian?