2 Timothy 2:1-13
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. (vv. 1-13)
Many have noticed long since that in this second chapter the believer is presented in seven distinct aspects, and we shall eventually have opportunity, I trust, to look at each one of these. But in this section before us we see him in four aspects: a son in verse 1; a soldier in verse 3; an athlete in verse 5, and a husbandman in verse 6. As we go on through the chapter we find him presented as a workman in verse 15, a vessel to the glory of God in verse 21, and a servant of the Lord in verse 24. In all these different characters the believer is called upon to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in this scene.
In this first section the subject particularly dealt with is the question of service and rewards. “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul speaks of Timothy as his son, because it was through his preaching that Timothy was brought to know the Lord. So Paul was pleased to think of Timothy as his own child in the faith.
Now every believer is a child of God. We are not children of God by natural birth. I know there is a teaching abroad that all men are God’s children. All men are God’s creatures. He is the Creator of them all. But only those who are born again are spoken of as children of God, and they alone are entitled to look up into the face of God and say, “Our Father.”
I trust that we all know the reality of this; that everyone of us can look back to a time when, through infinite grace, we trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and so began the walk of faith. “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Grace is God’s favor bestowed upon those who have no merit of their own. We are saved by grace, stand in grace, and are to walk in grace.
In verse 2 the Apostle instructs Timothy to pass on to others the things that had become most precious to him. We may all take this to heart. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Paul had instructed Timothy as to the great historic facts of Christianity and the doctrines based upon them. These had been attested by many witnesses. It became the responsibility of the younger preacher to make these things known to others, that the truth might be spread far and wide. This is the true apostolic succession, as distinguished from a sacerdotal system such as Rome and some others advocate.
All down through the history of the church this is the way God’s truth has been made known. One generation receives the truth, is led to believe in the Lord Jesus, that generation passes the Word of truth on to the next generation, and so it has been through the centuries. And upon us rests this same responsibility. That which we have received is not for ourselves alone. As God has opened up precious truths in His Holy Word, it is not simply for our own enjoyment. But our responsibility is to pass on to others that which means so much to us, to bring others into the same blessed fellowship of the truth of God. This will often take a great deal of self-denial. The path of witnessing for Christ may be a very hard one. God has never promised His children an easy time in the world. Our Lord Himself said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
So Timothy is commanded in verse 3 to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Each Christian is called to do valiant soldier service, contending earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This figure is frequently used in the Epistles. Note especially 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:8, as well as here. The Christian life is a constant warfare. We have three subtle and cruel enemies ever arrayed against us—the world, the flesh, and the Devil—and against all these we are called to make a resolute stand. We do not fight in our own strength, but as we are empowered by Him whose soldiers we are.
So we find Paul, with zeal unquenched, urging upon the younger preacher, Timothy, that he persist relentlessly in the battle for righteousness against all the hosts of evil. He, himself, maintains this soldier character to the last, as he realized that his fighting days were nearly ended and that soon he should give account of his part in this warfare, when he would stand at the judgment seat of Christ to receive the crown of righteousness, the divine recognition of faithful service, as he looked on to the appearing of his great General who had fought and overcome on his behalf so long before.
The figure of the soldier suggests obedience to orders, rigid discipline, holding the body in subjection, and valor in defense of the truth. These things should characterize all Christ’s servants. The path of devotion to Christ is not an easy way. It calls for steadfast endurance and abiding faith. These are soldier qualities every Christian needs in order that he may overcome in the warfare with iniquity.
Then again a true soldier must be separated from the affairs of this world. “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” He has to leave many things to which he has been accustomed. So you and I who were poor, godless worldlings have now been separated to the Lord and are called to walk apart from the world in devotion to the great Captain of our salvation.
In verse 5 the believer is looked upon as an athlete, as a man striving for mastery: “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” A more accurate or literal rendering is, “If a man contend in the games, yet is he not crowned if he have not observed the rules.” One would gather as he reads these Epistles that Paul in his youth must have had a keen interest in athletics, for he gives so many illustrations from the athletic games, such as racing and wrestling contests. He applies these to the life of a Christian.
It is a well-known principle in athletics that a man who enters a contest will not receive the reward unless he observes the rules of the game. Many years ago when I was laboring among the Laguna Indians in the southwest, I went into a store one Saturday night and found my Indian interpreter standing on a chair reading from a newspaper. The store was filled with Indians, and he was translating what he read into their language. The newspaper contained an account of the Olympic games that had been celebrated that year in Stockholm, Sweden. The man who had won most of the prizes was a full-blooded Indian, known as Jimmy Thorpe. How thrilled these Indians were as my interpreter was reading and telling all about his victories. He told them how at the time when the gold medals and other trophies were being conferred, the King of Sweden himself decorated Jiminy Thorpe, and taking him by the hand before all the people, he said, “You are to be congratulated. You are the greatest amateur athlete in the world today.” Those Indians were most enthusiastic as they heard that one of their own people had won out over so many other athletes.
I went into that same store some weeks afterward. Again the place was filled with Indians, and my interpreter was reading to them. But the result was not the same. There were no bright, happy faces. I wondered what had made the change. I learned that some white men in this country had been so indignant that an Indian had carried off so many prizes that they had been searching into the Indian’s past. They found out that one summer while attending Carlyle School in Pennsylvania he had served on a baseball team for $5.00 a week. That information was sent to the committee, who referred it to the King of Sweden. The result was that the king had to write Jimmy Thorpe to send back all the medals and trophies because he was not entitled to them. The athletic games, the king said, were for amateurs and not for professionals. Jimmy had taken money for playing ball and so was a professional. Poor Jimmy sent a letter to the King of Sweden, saying, “I am only a poor, ignorant Indian, and I did not know that the fact I had accepted $5.00 a week one summer for playing on a baseball team had made me a professional. I didn’t mean to deceive.” He sent back all his honors.
As these Indians listened to this account, they were stirred deeply. They could not understand the white man’s way. But no athlete is entitled to reward if he has not observed the rules.
As Christians we are here wrestling with the powers of evil, and we are to be rewarded only if we observe the rules. The rules are contained in the Word of God. We must conform our behavior to the Word if we are to be rewarded.
In verse 6 the believer is referred to as a farmer. Husbandman is the old-fashioned English word for a tiller of the soil. First we read, “The husbandman that laboreth must be first partaker of the fruits.” More literally, we might read, “The farmer that laboureth first becomes partaker of the fruits.” The farmer has his work to do: his plowing, sowing, harrowing, and reaping before he can enjoy his fruit. We are here to labor. Oh, what a day it will be when at last we come before our Lord at the judgment seat of Christ and become partakers of the fruit! How much it will mean to any of us who have had the privilege of winning souls for Christ, to stand at that judgment seat with those whom we have brought to Him, and say, “Behold I and the children whom Thou hast given me!” How sweet His “Well done” will sound to these ears of ours in that day of reward!
Paul adds, “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.” If we are going to labor faithfully for Christ, we must have Christ before us.
“Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.” “Remember…Jesus Christ. “It is really a battle cry—as of late we often hear the slogan, “Remember Bataan.” The word that is omitted from the Revised Version. When pressed by the foe, even to the point where one despairs of life, let us remember Him who could not be overcome by death but arose in triumph from the grave. It is He who beckons us on to ultimate victory. His promises never fail of fulfillment. Jesus Christ went down into death, bore the judgment our sins deserved in order that we might be saved, and then came up in triumph from death as the Captain of our salvation. And for His sake, says the Apostle, “I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.”
As we have seen previously, Paul wrote this letter in a Roman dungeon. Though he was imprisoned as a malefactor, he had a conscience void of offense toward God and man because he was there for the gospel’s sake. He said, “I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” The elect are those who receive Christ, those who put their trust in Him, who rest their souls for eternity upon Jesus Christ who died for sinners.
The last three verses of this section are considered by scholars generally as a little poem or hymn, probably sung in the early Christian assemblies. It is written in metrical form, and therefore might have been so used.
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself, (vv. 11-13)
What words are these, “We have died with him!” Those of us who have taken Him as Savior are seen by God as identified with Him in His death. We have a right to say, as Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). We died with Him, so we also live with Him. And if we suffer with Him, we shall share His glory. We shall reign with Him when He comes again. All believers suffer with Him, but all do not suffer for Him to the same extent.
On the other hand, if we who have professed to be Christians turn away from Him and deny His name and prove our unreality, then He will deny us. He said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9). “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
It is a challenge to reality. Mere profession does not save. We need to receive Christ and trust Him with all the heart, and then we shall boldly confess His name. If we believe not, yet He remains true. He can never go back on His word. Our unbelief cannot change His plan or purpose, nor alter His truth—He cannot deny Himself. He must be faithful to His own character.
Unless we distinguish carefully between salvation by pure grace and service or discipleship, for which a sure reward is promised, we are likely to become confused when considering such a portion as this. We are not called to fight our way to heaven. But as already bound for that blessed country, we are called to be soldiers in our Lord’s army, contending against every unholy thing that would impede our progress or bring dishonor upon our Savior’s name. For all such service we shall be rewarded “in that day,” that is, when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).
Our conflict in this age of grace is not, as Israel’s was in the past, with adversaries of flesh and blood. We do not draw the sword to destroy the opponents of our Lord and His gospel. But we fight with the sword of the Spirit against spiritual powers of evil—the unholy forces that would, if they could, nullify our testimony by leading us into things that bring dishonor upon the name of Him whose we are and whom we serve (Acts 27:23).