One of the reasons Paul asked Timothy to come visit him was that many people had abandoned him, and except for a precious few, he was all alone. For every Onesiphorus who went out of his way to find out where Paul was imprisoned to encourage him, there were many more such as Phygelus and Hermogenes who had abandoned him. (1:15-18).
Why did these two abandon Paul? Possibly because of the persecution that had landed him in prison, and the fear that they might end up like him. Perhaps they had tried to hang in there for a while, but in the end, they had been pushed past their ability to endure and left.
Many people are like that today. They become Christians, and when all is well, they are filled with joy. But when trials come, though they may try to endure for a time, eventually they fall away. How does that happen? It happens because they forget the grace by which they were called to live, and instead try to live on their own strength. And when their own strength fails, they have nothing left to lean on.
It’s very easy to look at verses like those in chapter 2 verses 3-6 and think, “I have to do this on my own strength. I have to be the good soldier. I have to train hard and keep all the rules. I have to pour all my strength into this work God has given me.”
But in putting all your focus on what you have to do, you forget where your strength comes from.
We in short forget what Paul said before all his words about being a soldier, athlete, and farmer. He said,
Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (2:1)
What does that mean? Most people tend to skip over it because it’s not as easily understood as being a good soldier, athlete, or farmer.
But it’s absolutely vital.
You see, it was by grace you were saved. Not by your own efforts. And it is by grace that we are to live each day. Just as you depend on God for your salvation, you need to depend on God as you live your daily life. And especially as you face hardships and persecution.
Yes, we are to seek to please God, and not get caught up in the things of this world. Yes, we are to do the things he has asked us if we are to receive a heavenly reward. Yes, we are to work hard, knowing that our labor will not be in vain.
But if our focus is on “I have to do this in my own strength,” we are destined to fail.
We were saved by grace. And we are to live each day by grace. That is, we are to live by the Spirit that God has given us to dwell in our hearts, the Spirit who gives us power, fills us with love, and gives us the self-discipline we need to do his will. (II Timothy 1:7)
That’s why Paul tells Timothy,
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. (8-9)
In other words, in all your struggles to endure, remember Jesus Christ. Remember he is your starting point and your ending point. He is the one God promised to redeem us from our sin. He is the one who was raised from the dead and gives us life. And ultimately, he is the one who will bring us through our trials, and take us with him into glory. Remember that. Don’t try to make it through these trials on your own.
And then Paul reminded Timothy. Yes I am chained. I am weak. I can be bound. But God’s word is not chained (9). His work will be accomplished. And it is with that hope that I continue my work in the face of death. Because I know that through me, people will come to faith in Christ and find the grace that you and I have both found.
He then closes with a hymn of encouragement. Encouragement to endure. Encouragement at the faithfulness of Christ. Paul sang,
If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (12-13)
It’s fitting that he finishes that hymn with a word of grace. For our ability to endure starts with grace and ends with it.