When Paul wrote to Timothy to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus”, he spoke of a strength he possessed personally (v.1). Sitting in a Roman dungeon awaiting his execution, Paul found strength in his Savior. He was suffering for preaching the gospel, bound with chains — but he had not given up hope. The grace of God kept him strong and encouraged.
That same grace was the secret for Timothy’s success as the pastor of a troubled church. The concept of “grace” carries the idea of relying totally on the power of Jesus, not our own strength, ingenuity, or creativity. Paul told Timothy to rely on the grace of Jesus as he made disciples (v.2). The strategy for disciple-making in verse 2 is the only way to effectively fulfill the Great Commission: to pour your life and faith into one receptive person at a time, and then equip them to pass the faith along to someone else. If the church would follow this simple process — without complicating it — it would grow exponentially! (Note: if this is the way discipleship is supposed to work, then are you truly a disciple if you have never reproduced yourself?)
Paul also told Timothy that relying on the grace of Jesus was the only way to endure suffering (v.3). Quoting four lines that were probably the lyrics of an early church hymn, he made the point that hope in Jesus will never disappoint (v.11-13). The one who died for us “remains faithful” forever!
Paul taught what it takes to endure suffering with the comparison to three groups of people who used discipline and sacrifice to achieve their goals: soldiers, athletes, and farmers (v.4-6). Soldiers win wars when they focus on being battle-ready and refuse to be distracted by civilian affairs. Athletes win contests when they train hard and play their best within the rules. Farmers reap a harvest when they combine hard work during the planting season and patience during the growing season. (Note: this is a good time to stop and ask yourself, “Am I relying on the grace of Jesus to make disciples? Do I give up when it gets hard, or do I trust Jesus for strength?”)
There were many false teachers in Ephesus, where Timothy served. They had “swerved from the truth” (v.18) and driven off into error. Paul encouraged Timothy to study the truth he had taught him (v.15). Focusing on the truth would keep him from becoming entangled in unproductive arguments and poisonous heresy (v.14, 17, 23-26).
Paul’s advice for Timothy is good advice for us: be ready for God to use at all times (v.21); run from temptation and press into righteousness (v.22); be kind and gentle with those who reject the truth, trusting God with the results (v.24-26); and always pray and hope that the lost will escape Satan’s clutches and come to Jesus as they repent of their sins (v.25-26).