Theme: Pressure-Points: Ridicule and Hardships
This week’s lessons remind us that we do not only need God’s grace for our salvation; we also need God’s grace to provide strength to carry on in God’s service in the midst of difficulties.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1, 2
The first of these pressure-points was ridicule. Paul discusses it in chapter 1, where he urges Timothy not to be ashamed either of the Lord, the gospel or himself.
What a powerful weapon of Satan shame is! A disciple of Jesus Christ may be strong in many ways, able perhaps to stand against the worst kinds of physical threats. We may tell Jesus, as Peter did, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Mark 14:31). But if even a little servant girl makes fun of us, saying, “You also were with that Nazarene,” a moment or two later we can be found denying we ever knew Jesus or professed the gospel. Peter said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about” (Mark 14:68, 71). In Asia everyone else had deserted Paul. It would have been easy for Timothy to go with the flow and so dissociate himself from Paul and the gospel he had fully and fearlessly taught.
Notice that the word “ashamed” occurs three times in chapter one, in verses 8, 12, and 16. In verse 12, Paul says that he was not ashamed: “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
In verse 16, he refers to a man whose name was Onesiphorus, saying that he was not ashamed of Paul: “Onesiphorus…was not ashamed of my chains.” When Onesiphorus got to Rome Paul was in prison. Apparently nearly everyone in the Roman church had forgotten Paul, because Onesiphorus had to search hard until he found him. But he did search, and when he found him he was not ashamed of him but rather stood by him and often refreshed him. This must have meant a great deal to Paul in such circumstances. It is why he commends Onesiphorus so forcefully and prays for him.
The remaining use of the word “ashamed” is in verse 8, and it refers to Timothy. Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul, and Timothy should not be ashamed either: “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life” (vv. 8, 9). This was no small matter. If Timothy had never been tempted to be ashamed of Paul, Paul would not have uttered this warning. If Paul had never been tempted to shame, he would not have insisted on his own personal stand against shame as strongly as he did. Instead of being ashamed, Timothy should be willing to suffer for Jesus and the gospel. How can Timothy do this? How can we stand when all about us are going another way and make fun of us for our position? The answer is that God will help us. This is the main point of the letter. In chapter one it is expressed in verse 14: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
The second pressure-point that might have moved Timothy to abandon his fight for the gospel was hardship, the theme of chapter two. In the first chapter Timothy was encouraged to suffer for the gospel rather than to be ashamed of it. In this chapter one aspect of that suffering is spelled out, not that of ridicule or persecution but rather of pure physical hardship. It is a recognition that standing for Jesus Christ in a world that is opposed to him and hates him is hard work. In this chapter there are six metaphors to show what Timothy must be willing to be and do, rather than abandon his calling.
A soldier (vv. 3, 4). The Christian’s life is a warfare, and it is not only against earthly enemies like those who may have been ridiculing Paul and Timothy, but also “spiritual forces in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). This is an unrelenting battle to the death. What kind of a soldier is needed for it? Obviously one who is trained for combat, obedient to orders, and hardened by rigorous military discipline. Verse 3 mentions hardships especially. In verse 4 Paul says that the good soldier will avoid “civilian affairs” or, as we might say, non-military entanglements.
An athlete (v. 5). An athlete does not put himself in harm’s way, as a soldier does. But his course is no less rigorous and demanding. He exerts himself thoroughly in training, and in the contest he presses to the limits of his ability and strength to win a victory. Paul describes himself in these terms in 1Corinthians, saying that he beat his body and even made it his slave so that he might attain the victor’s prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27). In 2 Timothy his emphasis is on competing by the rules (v. 5).
A farmer (v. 6). Two things immediately come to mind with this image. First, farming is hard physical work. It takes strenuous effort to prepare a field for planting, plant, care for, and then harvest a crop; and often it must be done in bad weather. Second, there is a lot of time between the work of sowing and the joy of harvesting. So a farmer must be patient. On the other hand, if he is hard-working and patient, the farmer will reap a harvest. Paul seems to have this in mind here, for he speaks of the farmer receiving “a share of the crops” and interrupts the flow of these metaphors to bring in the example of Jesus who died but who also rose again, assuring us that “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (v. 12).
Why might Timothy be tempted to feel ashamed?
What examples of hardship was Timothy facing, or could be facing, that Paul had in mind?
What are the first three metaphors Paul uses to encourage Timothy not to abandon his calling? What important ideas emerge from them?
Application: List your own pressure situations. How have you handled such pressures in the past? At what points did you fail, and why? And for points over which you achieved a victory, how did God bring it about?