As I’ve been spending time the last few weeks reading over Paul’s last letter to Timothy, I’ve been humbled and convicted and challenged by the tone in Paul’s voice and the way that he’s pleading with Timothy to not compromise his commitment to Jesus. To be honest, I’ve struggled with what’s being said in this letter because it just seems so far away from my own experience in my commitment to Jesus.
Now, by no means, do I want to suffer anything close to what Paul suffered. But as I’m reading his words and thinking about his situation in prison and the fact that he is about to be executed, I can’t help but be a little envious of his level of intimacy with our Lord. Not that I want to suffer like him, because I don’t. But it seems that because of his level of commitment and the costs that he’s had to pay for that commitment, he is experiencing a relationship with our Lord on a whole different level than I am experiencing right now.
This week I was teaching from the first half of chapter two (2:1-13), and so I just want us to listen to these words from Paul as he pleads with Timothy to endure whatever he has to for the sake of Jesus and his message to the world.
“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”
Paul is pointing out that our new life with Jesus gives us a new kind of strength and power. This is what he said initially when he told Timothy in 1:8 to “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.”
“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
All three of these metaphors (soldier, athlete and farmer) describe people who are committed to something that is much bigger than themselves. And all three of these involve people who must exhibit strength, focus, discipline, obedience, patience and endurance.
These three metaphors and the kind of character that each one requires are great examples of the life of power that we ought to be living and experiencing with Jesus. Paul knows that if you possess the power of the Holy Spirit within you then you have the potential to live this new life of power.
So Paul tries to fan into flame this life of power by reminding Timothy of the powerful perspective that ought to fuel our unwavering faithfulness to Jesus.
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 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. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.”
Paul reminds Timothy that the greatest example of a life that is willing to suffer for something bigger than themselves is the life of Jesus himself. It was his commitment to the Father that led him to endure execution by the Romans. And like Jesus, Paul points out that he too is now suffering in a Roman prison because of his commitment to Jesus.
And so, following Jesus requires personal sacrifice and a commitment to something bigger than yourself. It involves risk and tension. But as Paul points out in his short poem, the resurrection of Jesus has become the source of a new kind of life full of strength and power and hope.
So you see, it’s often the sacrifice and the struggle that makes our new life with Jesus real and more than just a belief system or a religious preference or an intellectual decision that we’ve made about life and God. Paul’s not just talking about something to believe in; he’s talking about a new life of power to experience right now and a new hope that at the end of this life is a resurrection into an eternal life of goodness and God’s glory with Jesus.
And he’s about to be executed for believing and sharing this hope with others.
Following Jesus is not easy; but Paul was convinced that it’s totally worth it.
The question is… Are me and you?