Living in Grace

2 Timothy 2
1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 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. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

When we looked at 2 Timothy 2 a couple of weeks ago, one thing we saw is the great benefit of the Christian life, of living in the grace of Jesus Christ. What that means is that we don’t have to be super strong on our own, we don’t have to be self-sufficient to solve all the problems and have all the best ideas. We don’t have to look to ourselves to be something great. We can lay those thoughts aside, those thoughts that can weigh us down, and instead we can look to Jesus, who is full of grace, to give us what we need to take our next step in life. This grace of Jesus is help that we do not deserve, it’s what we cannot earn. He is our strength, He is to be our rock, He is our life – that is the message of the New Testament. Jesus is to be our all, and, living in us, is to be our sustainer through life.

I hope that we all see our great need for Him. I hope that none of us are still being fooled into thinking that we can live this life in any good way on our own. Jesus demands our all and gives us His all. But in this it is the grace of Christ that keeps us and sustains us and keeps us in the way of truth. We need this. And this is why Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:1: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,”

It is okay to come to the end of yourself and say, “I can’t do this, please Jesus help me.” It is okay to wake every morning and cry out to Christ for the day’s strength. In fact, it is more than okay, it is pleasing to our Lord that we understand and acknowledge our need for Him in all things. It is the grace of Jesus that makes us who we are.
Now, as we get to verses 3-7 we see three illustrations that show us what it looks like to live in the strength of Christ. We have an illustration of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. We are going to look at these this morning. These illustrations give us at least two things. They give us standards that we can look at regarding Christian living. What I mean is we can take these illustrations, hold them up next to our lives, and evaluate whether or not they describe our walk. We can be honest with ourselves in that evaluation, we should be honest with ourselves. Secondly, when we find ourselves coming up short, they become goals that can stretch us in our walk and in our faith.

Before we look at them in some detail, I want to make another, maybe obvious point. When we talk of grace, we understand that it is a free, undeserved gift from the hand of God to us. He is giving us what we need and it is free and undeserved. But what we see in these illustrations may seem like we are doing all the work to get what we need, that is strength for living. So which is it? Is Christ giving us strength by His grace or are we working really hard to be strong?

The answer? God gives us what we need to be strong and allows us to be strong in the ways we will see this morning. Was Paul a strong man? Yes, in Christ! Was Peter a strong man after Jesus’ ascension? Yes, in Christ. Was John a strong man? Yes, in Christ.

The Bible teaches us that apart from God we can do nothing. And that our works are as filthy rags. It is our dependence on Him and reliance on Him that leads to strength. And so these illustrations are examples, not of man’s strength but of Christ’s strength demonstrated in people who love Him.

The first characteristic of a strong spiritual life lived in the grace of Christ is that of a soldier.

2 Timothy 2
3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

Paul encourages Timothy to share in suffering as a good soldier. The direct implication here is that he will face suffering. And so the encouragement is to suffer well, to suffer as a good soldier.

I suppose there is nothing like being a soldier. I have not been in the military, so all I know is what I have read or been told. I do know that if one enlists in the armed forces then there is a sense in which they own you. Now, I know that is not 100% true in our country, but it is close, and it is probably completely true in some other countries. In the military, you don’t choose if you want to work or not, or if you want to follow a command, or if you want to do the job assigned to you. By necessity there is a chain of strict command, and required loyalty to that command. It is an important structure, and means not only life and death to those in battle but life and death for those for whom they are to protect. In the military you cannot have everyone just doing whatever they want. That would be a disaster in time of war. And so verse 4 says, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

There are two important points here for us. First, a soldier cannot get entangled in pursuits that would cause a lack of allegiance to his duty as a soldier, and secondly, it is to be the soldier’s aim to please his commanders.

The first one speaks of priorities. He or she cannot become entangled with outside interests. Entangled here means “to become so involved in some activity as to experience severe restrictions as to what one can do.” A soldier cannot neglect his duty as a soldier, so whatever may tempt him to that must be put away. Paul is not talking about things that may be wrong in and of themselves, only that the soldier has to keep soldiering in first place. He or she is first of all a soldier. In the same way a Christian, a soldier of Christ, must not allow earthly matters to interfere with the fulfillment of his duty before Christ.

Now, this is a tough one. I don’t know how anyone in our culture can hear this and just be totally satisfied with where they are. What is the primary reason you or I may hear that someone can’t serve in the church or minister to the needy or practice hospitality or attend a Bible study? What is it that we hear and that we say too? “I’m too busy!” Busy doing what? I just want us to think about this. Is it that we are entangled in the things of this world? Are we letting things creep into our lives that then keep us from living the Christian life as we have been called to live? How are we spending our time?

I am not trying to guilt you into anything here. What I do want you to see and me too is that it takes the incredible grace of our loving Savior to keep us from being entangled in all that can dazzle us in this world.

We can get entangled in work, sports, gaming, entertainment of all sorts, consuming information, politics, social movements, philosophy, and the list goes on and on. An overabundance of any of these things can lead to entanglement and can hijack our priorities as children, soldiers of our Lord. Can we maintain our current pace and live out our duties as a believer at the same time? If not, some things have got to go.

And here is the thing: it should be our aim to please our Lord. Here is the illustration: “since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” Here we get to the heart of the matter. Is it our aim, our primary aim to please our Lord? Is that what we really want? If it is, then we can begin to work to untangle ourselves from those things that may keep us from pleasing Him, right? Now, it won’t be easy, and it won’t be done in our strength. God knows we can’t untangle ourselves, He knows we need Him, and so He gives His grace as we call upon Him, as we submit to Him.

If you are a fisherman, you know how hard it can be to untangle something. Before I had kids I would fish a lot. After I had kids, when they were small for many years, fishing for me would be constantly untangling the boys’ fishing lines. I got to where I wouldn’t even bring my fishing gear because I knew I wouldn’t get to use it. Sometimes a backlash would be so bad that after spending a long time trying to untangle it, we would just cut all the line off and start with new line.

You may feel so entangled in the things of this world, such that it seems impossible to live a life pleasing to God. But that is not true. With God all things are possible, and you can go to Him, He is there for you, you can begin to unravel those entanglements and rely on Him to help you move forward to please Him. He is here for you.

The second illustration of what a strong spiritual life looks like is regarding an athlete.

2 Timothy 2
5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

This illustration has to do with discipline. If you have competed as an athlete then you are aware of the need for discipline. In the early Olympic games there were strict rules which had to be obeyed. There were strict rules to follow that applied to professionals as opposed to amateurs. Each athlete for these Olympics had to state on oath that he had fulfilled the necessary ten months’ training before he was permitted to enter the contest. Any athlete who had not subjected himself to the necessary discipline would have no chance of winning and would in fact lower the standard of the games. There were severe penalties imposed on any who infringed the rules.

So to even qualify to compete, certain standards had to be maintained. And certainly once at the games, the rules of the event had to be followed. A sprinter cannot leave the block before the signal. Each event had guidelines and strict adherence to them was required. Applied to the Christian ministry, this second metaphor stresses the absolute necessity for self-discipline. The apostle is here exhorting Timothy to keep strictly to the ‘rules’ fixed by the life and teaching of Christ. As a Christian we have a book of commands, exhortations to follow. God has made it clear what it looks like to follow Him. We have His Word, His instructions for us.

It is amazing, really, how many people will claim Christianity and then they will have nothing to do with obedience. Some want the title of Christian and want some kind of assurance of heaven, but they are not living according to His ways, even have no intent of living out His ways. It would be like an athlete who refused to qualify according to the rules and refused to follow the rules of the particular event. A sprinter who wants to compete but refuses to compete at the assigned time. Like he goes to the track an hour before his event is to start, runs around the track, and claims to have won.

If we say we are Christians and claim Christ as our Savior and Lord, then are we striving to live out His Word, to live according to His ways?

Again, this will never happen in the weakness of our flesh. We need Him in us to do this. We need Him, we must cry out to Him and then move ahead in obedience to His commands.

Now, there is one more. There is an illustration of a farmer. Not just any farmer, but a hard-working farmer.

2 Timothy 2
6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.

The hardest working person I know was my grandfather, and he was a farmer. At his peak, he farmed about 600 acres, and this was before the tractors were giant like they are today. It was really hard work. He used to tell me stories of all the times he would just sleep in the fields at night to get an early start the next morning. He said he would come home so covered in dirt that he would be unrecognizable. He was diligent, persevered, and worked hard when he felt like it and when he didn’t. Being a farmer in his day, you either worked with that kind of commitment or you didn’t farm long at all. The farmer makes his living by bringing in the crops. He didn’t get paid to plow the ground or plant the seed or control the weeds or irrigate or fight off the pests. No, he got paid only if he brought in a crop to sell. His reward came from the crop that he harvested.

Hard working here means to toil intensely. It is to sweat and strain to the point of exhaustion. He must endure many things, but in the end that crop must come in. All that goes into this is not glamorous. But in the end there is a great reward.

Our good and persistent work as a Christian is not about earning our salvation, it came as a free gift of grace, but it is the same grace which helps us here to work out our salvation by the way we live.

Philippians 2
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Ephesians 2
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

As we stand before the Lord, will this be said of us?

1 Corinthians 3
13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.

Our good works are displays of the grace of Christ, our rewards are proof of the grace of Christ at work in us. It is all of Him, so we should walk in them.

2 Timothy 2
7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Paul wants Timothy to ponder these things, that is what think over means, ponder these things. Meditate on these things, these illustrations of grace. We should do that as well. Are our lives marked by these things? Are we committed to Christ like a soldier? Are we living by His commands, His Word as an athlete competes according to the rules? Are we diligent like the farmer working toward the time of harvest? Can we honestly evaluate our lives and cry out to the Lord for help, for His grace to help us in areas of need?

Here is where living for Christ leads:

1 Corinthians 15
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Lord, please lead us in this way!

2 Timothy 2
1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 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. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.