Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
2 Tim. 2:1-13 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. 8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself.
We are unaccustomed to being told what to do in checkout lines. But if you’ve been in Walgreens® lately, you will almost certainly have been given a command. “Be well!” the checker will have said. Or should have said. For that’s the mandate from the corporate higher-ups. Every customer is to be sent on his or her way with a cheery directive to “Be well!”
It’s a curious good-bye. Not only because it takes the form of a command, but because of the particular kind of command it is. Be well? If it were in my power to fulfill that command, why would I be visiting a pharmacy? I cannot make myself well; that is why I’m here!
It may seem a similarly curious mandate with which the apostle Paul charges Timothy: “Be strengthened.” Yet Paul does not leave off there, in the manner of the Walgreens checker. No, he cannot. For he knows that it is not within Timothy’s power to strengthen himself. Timothy’s strength must be found outside of himself—in “the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” That’s Paul’s word for us today too:
Be Strengthened in the Sure Promise
of the Grace That Is in Christ Jesus.
To belabor the drugstore analogy just a moment longer, it must be emphasized that though Jesus is indeed the “Great Physician,” he is not the great pharmacist. “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v 1). That is, we are not to think of the grace of our Lord as a sort of medicine simply dispensed by him, which then becomes ours. It is not, as some would teach, a healing substance imparted to you or infused into you. No, as Paul here notes, it remains in Christ Jesus.
The grace of God is the favor of God, on account of Christ’s death. In other words, it is not a “thing” in you; it is the gracious attitude or disposition of God toward you on account of Christ, who obeyed the Law in your stead and who suffered its fatal penalty in your place on the cross. When the Apostle says, “Be strengthened,” it is as if he were saying: Grasp hold of Christ’s death and cling to it, God is now favorably disposed toward you.” To know that this is most certainly true is to be strengthened.
Timothy needed strengthening. As you’ve heard in the text, Paul is suffering; he is “bound with chains as a criminal” (v 9). He expects those chains to come off only when he’s dead. And he expects death to approach speedily (4:6). This is no small thing. Not for Paul. But neither for Timothy. For Paul is his spiritual father, the one who laid ordaining hands on him, the one with whom he engaged side-by-side in the ministry of the Gospel. Paul’s suffering is Timothy’s also.
Paul then tells him. “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (v 3). Another command. And he will. Paul is in chains for preaching the Gospel, for proclaiming the Good News with which he was entrusted. And since Timothy has been exhorted to do precisely the same, he must expect precisely the same consequences. Paul cannot sugarcoat it, not even for young Timothy, often-timid Timothy. He, too, must expect to “share in suffering.”
And so he needs to be strengthened. As do you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps not because your fidelity to Scripture and its teaching will lead to your imprisonment or death—though we must not discount that possibility. But I cannot sugarcoat it any more than St. Paul does—or Jesus himself does: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” Jesus warns (Mt 10:22).
And so you, too, must be strengthened, because it would otherwise be very easy to avoid suffering, to escape the world’s hatred. And the temptation to do so is and will be very strong. All that is required is to abandon your faith. Note well: Paul is not in chains because of what he believes, but because of what he preaches. The world will not hate you, it will not persecute you or even slight you, for what you believe—as long as you keep it to yourself.
But that, dear brothers and sisters, is not an option. It was not for Paul. It was not for Timothy. And it is not for you. One does not light a lamp and put it under a basket (Mt 5:15). And so you, too, must be strengthened so that you, too, might “endure everything” (v 10). Not for your own sake and the sake of your salvation. No, that is the free gift of him who has already endured everything, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). You are strengthened to endure, as was Paul himself, “for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (v 10). That they, too, might hear and believe that Word of God, which “is not bound” (v 9), but remains “living and active” (Heb 4:12), and which will not return to the Lord empty (Is 55:11). “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (v 10).
“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” (vv 1–2). You are strengthened to endure so that you might speak this saving Word to your neighbor. But it remains God’s Word. He himself acts in it and with it. And he remains faithful to it, “for he cannot deny himself.” “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself” (vv 11–13).
Let this, then, also be the source of your strength, your comfort, and your confidence. Even in the face of hatred, suffering, or threat of death, your salvation has already been assured. “Remember Jesus Christ,” Paul proclaims, “risen from the dead” (v 8). The word “remember” here does not simply mean to call it to memory, but to cling to him in faith. Take comfort in Jesus Christ. Trust him who, for your sake, has already conquered death. Remember the “trustworthy” saying Paul decrees before Timothy: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” And remember that you indeed have already died with him in Holy Baptism. There you were buried with him and raised again with him (Rom 6:3–5). There his unbound Word together with the water unbound you from the shackles of sin, death, and the devil. There his promise was spoken to you and for you, and to that promise “he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”
Be strengthened, therefore, in the sure comfort of this promise of “the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Amen.