The Struggling Disciple
Anyone who has ever been to a church camp has heard someone say, “You need to recommit your life to the Lord.” We’ve all heard messages about commitment, dedication, consecration, and so on. But do we understand what that means?
If you have ever felt the desire to rededicate your life to the Lord, you need more than a pep talk. You need concrete biblical realities shaping your understanding of what it means to be a strong Christian. One place we can look for these realities is 2 Timothy.
Second Timothy was the last inspired letter that Paul ever wrote. He wrote this letter as a prisoner, and tradition tells us that he was martyred not long after. By this point in his life, Paul had founded many churches. He’d had a tremendous evangelistic ministry. He’d been responsible for imparting and codifying doctrine for the foundation of the church to come.
But now he knows that the time of his departure is near. He’s ready to see the Lord and receive his reward, but he wants to be sure somebody is going to pick up the work after him. In light of this, he addresses this final letter to Timothy. Timothy was a man about 30 years younger than Paul, and he was Paul’s longtime friend and disciple. He was the best person for Paul to pass the baton to.
Except there was a problem. Timothy was struggling.
In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul says to him, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I’m sure is in you as well.” In other words, Paul is saying, “I know you’re saved. I know you’re a believer. I know you have a real faith in Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for that.”
But then he says in the next verse, “I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6). What gift is he talking about? It is Timothy’s gift for ministry, preaching, teaching, leading the church, doing the work of an evangelist — everything God had given Timothy to do. And Paul is saying, “I know your faith is real, but your gift has dwindled. The fire of your passion has gone out and I want you to kindle it afresh.”
Paul then goes on to say, “God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, love, and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). This leads us to believe that not only had Timothy let his gift fall into disuse, but he was even being cowardly.
We know that Timothy had been contending with philosophers and with bad leaders inside the church of Ephesus. He was trying to sort out the problems in the church, and in the process of doing that, he ran into a lot of opposition. It’s possible that in the midst of all these external and internal problems, he was starting to become timid.
So here is a man who has a sincere faith, but who is letting his gift fall into disuse and is losing the boldness that he once had in the cause of Christ. This is the person Paul is passing his mantle to. And we see in this letter that Paul wants to make sure that Timothy is up to the responsibility. The heart of Paul’s message to his disciple is this: “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).
Paul has already experienced the road ahead of Timothy, and he knows it’s going to take great spiritual strength to survive. So he writes this last letter encouraging Timothy to be strong, and he gives Timothy multiple pictures to shape his identity as a strong Christian. In the days to come, I’ll be walking us through three of these pictures and showing how they point us toward strength and maturity in our own lives.