Living Strong by Grace
Livestrong.com is one of the most popular health and fitness websites on the internet. The Livestrong Foundation was founded in 1997 by cancer survivor and former professional road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong. The foundation is focused on cancer survivorship and the website on general health and fitness. Thousands of people visit this website everyday in the quest for better health.
As important as our physical well being is, our spiritual well being is of even more importance. We learned this in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
This is why in his second letter to Timothy Paul urges him to live strong the grace of Christ Jesus.
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. 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.
What he says in this short paragraph is of such importance that Paul urges Timothy to carefully “think over what I say...” That is what I aim for us to do this morning—to think carefully about what Paul is teaching us. To do this we need to realize that only the Lord can give us understanding of what it means to live “strong in grace.” We know this because Paul adds, “for the Lord will give you understanding...” So there are two parts to understanding: 1) Our careful thinking and 2) the Lord’s giving. In light of this, let us begin with prayer:
O Lord, grant us understanding as we examine this text today. May we not just comprehend the meaning of this text, but by your grace apply it to our lives that we may live strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Before get into the meat of this paragraph their are two points we need to observe in verses 1 and 2 of the text we just read. So you don’t miss these two important points let me read them again:
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.
The first thing we need to note about Paul’s exhortation is that he is talking about a supernatural strength. Timothy is exhorted to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” It is a strength found not in human effort, but in divine grace. Secondly, this grace is found in Christ and in the gospel message about Christ. It is the “grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me...”
I am stressing these two points because the three exhortations we find in this text are exhortations to effort. Spiritual strength does not come to those who are spiritually passive and lazy. We can’t “Let go and let God.” We must be as Jesus taught, men and women of action,
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
However, the strength by which we strive is the strength that God provides:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
So we grow strong in the grace of Christ by striving in the grace of Christ! This is clearly seen in the first example and exhortation Paul uses.
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.
We need to be loyal to Christ like a good soldier.
The Loyalty of a Good Soldier
The Loyalty of a Good Soldier
Clearly Paul was concerned that Timothy would be overwhelmed by a spirit of fear. Early in the letter he wrote:
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do 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,
As we learned last week, as people saw Paul being persecuted and imprisoned they became ashamed of both Paul and his gospel message. Of course what was behind their shame was fear—they were afraid of being persecuted and imprisoned if they continued to associate with Paul and his gospel.
This is why Paul uses the example of a soldier. A good soldier has to master his fears so that he can walk into the teeth of battle! Make no mistakes about it, all soldiers are afraid. Someone once said, “Bravery is being the only one who knows you are afraid.” So how did a soldier in Paul’s day gain mastery over his fear so he could walk first through an arrow storm and then into a wall of shields, spears and swords? LOYALTY!
It is loyalty to their unit that that has always given men the courage to face death. This is why soldiers as recently as the American Civil War would line up shoulder to shoulder and march into battle. Even today, soldiers are still organized into squads. When all other reasons fail, it is loyalty to his comrades and leader that gives a man courage in battle. Small unit leadership has always been the backbone of an army.
Paul using this point to remind us to be loyal to Christ. Jesus is the “one who enlisted” us and for victory in spiritual warfare we cannot have divided loyalties: “No soldier get entangled in civilians pursuits.” This entanglement into civilian pursuits is what led to people abandoning Paul and the gospel. Some like Demas were “in love with this present world”. Many others were in love with their own sinful passions, consequently they accumulated false teachers around them because these false teachers fed their passions.
Who or what you love makes the difference between victory or defeat in spiritual warfare. As we sang early, victory is only found in Jesus.
“I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from glory, How he gave his life on Calvary to save a wretch like me!”
It is in that “old, old story” of grace that gives us the strength of be good soldiers! Nothing creates a stronger love and loyalty to Christ than the knowledge that Christ “gave his life on Calvary to save a wretch like me!” This is why we must be a gospel saturated church and people!
Of course the “old, old story” of the gospel is not popular. It wasn’t in Paul’s day nor is it today. Rather than accept God’s Good News, people want to create their own. Like Champion Athletes we must run the race of faith by God’s rules, not our own rules. This is Paul’s second point.
The Discipline of a Champion Athlete
The Discipline of a Champion Athlete
Paul writes this:
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
Earlier I spoke of Lance Armstrong—Armstrong is no longer on the board of Livingstrong, nor is he still a champion cyclist. Why? Because he was caught taking performance enhancing drugs. In athletics, cheating sooner or later catches up with you. True champions know this.
Paul used this example to make his second point. We can only win the race of faith by completing according to Christ’s rules. The false teachers that were plaguing Ephesus were playing by their own rules. Earlier, I alluded to a passage in chapter four that I would like to read to you now:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
A good example of such a teacher today is Paul Young, the author of The Shack. This book has sold twenty million copies and has now been made into a major motion picture. With twenty million readers, it is obvious that Paul Young is scratching an itch. It is also obvious from his new book entitled “Lies We Believe About God” that Paul Young is a false teacher. He has abandoned “the pattern of sound teaching” and substituted it with his own. He even has the nerve to call biblical doctrine “lies about God”! What is merely hinted at in The Shack is made crystal clear in his new book. Young teaches such unbiblical doctrines as these: humanity is not fallen and there is no hell. In the end, according to Young everyone will be saved. Consequently, we don’t need a Savior, nor do we need to repent and and place our faith in Christ. Paul Young, also shares with the majority of our society, the belief that all paths lead to God and organized religion is unnecessary and even dangerous.
No wonder he has sold so many books! He is telling people exactly what their etching ears want to hear!
This is in sharp contrast to the apostle Paul who teaches Timothy the necessity of “sound doctrine.” Paul Young claims to reject “organized religion” but what he is really rejecting is organized doctrine! He wants to create his own version of Christianity and his own version of “god”. The bible teaches that God created humanity in his own image, Paul Young creates a false god in his image!
Our society is full of people just like Paul Young. But, such people are fooling themselves. We can’t make up the rules as we go along, we must abide by God’s rules if we are going to wear the Victor’s Crown.
Of course, if we just look at the Three B’s—Buildings, Bodies and Bucks—false teachers appear to have the victor’s crown. But the true reward of faith is not in this world, but in the next. It is the hope of glory that the apostle Paul turns to next.
It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.
The Hope of a Hard Working Farmer
The Hope of a Hard Working Farmer
Hope is a powerful thing—it defines both the direction and quality of our lives. Without hope life has no meaning or purpose. With the wrong hope our life goes off course and is wasted.
A farmer is a perfect example of the power of hope. Few people work harder than farmers and few have more uncertain rewards for their labors. A successful harvest requires more than just hard work—it requires just the right weather and freedom from pestilence. Much is totally outside the farmer’s control. Without hope, a farmer would never make it.
As I said earlier our spiritual strength and success is dependent on the grace of God. We are to work hard, but our hard work will not secure victory. In spiritual warfare the “battle is the Lords”. The young man David had the courage to fight the giant Goliath because he knew where the hope of victory really was. He said to the prideful Goliath:
This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
This hope in God is what gave the apostle Paul hope as he faced death. At the close of this letter he will write Timothy these inspiring words:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Paul had the hope that his victory was in Jesus. Do you have that hope?
Before the sermon we sang, Victory in Jesus, and in a few moments we will sing Soldier of Christ, Arise. That song begins this way:
Soldier of Christ arise, And put your armor on, Strong in the strength that God supplies, Through His eternal Son...
And it ends with these words:
That having all things done, And all your conflicts past, Ye may o’ercome through Christ alone, And stand complete at last.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, may these words be true for each of us.