You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:1
During the American Civil War, the penalty for desertion was execution. But the Union armies rarely executed deserters because their commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, pardoned nearly all of them. This infuriated Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, who believed that Lincoln’s leniency only enticed would-be deserters. But Lincoln empathized with soldiers who had lost their nerve and who had given in to their fear in the heat of battle. And his empathy endeared him to his soldiers. They loved their “Father Abraham,” and their affection led the soldiers to want to serve Lincoln all the more.
When Paul calls Timothy to join him in “suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3), he calls him to a tough job description. A soldier is to be completely dedicated, hard-working, and selfless. He’s to serve his commanding officer, Jesus, wholeheartedly. But in reality, we sometimes fail to be His good soldiers. We don’t always serve Him faithfully. And so Paul’s opening phrase is important: “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). Our Savior is full of grace. He empathizes with our weaknesses and forgives our failures (Hebrews 4:15). And just as the Union soldiers were encouraged by Lincoln’s compassion, so believers are strengthened by the grace of Jesus. We want to serve Him all the more because we know He loves us.
How can the grace of Christ become a source of strength for you to serve Him? What does it mean for you to suffer for Jesus?
Dear God, please strengthen me in the grace of Christ that I may serve Him faithfully.
The imagery of a soldier is used in ancient Greek ethical teaching (for example, Plato and Epictetus) for the same reasons that Paul uses it in 2 Timothy 2: a soldier is dedicated and is willing to suffer in order to achieve a set goal. Paul also uses this imagery in 1 Corinthians 9:7 and uses military metaphors in 2 Corinthians 10:3–4, Ephesians 6:10–17, and 1 Timothy 1:18. But such military metaphors and images aren’t meant to be taken literally—though they sadly have been in times past through crusades and holy wars. Such misuse of Paul’s language isn’t to be blamed on him. To be “a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3) means that Timothy is to embody the same attitudes toward the service of Jesus that a soldier does toward his commanding officer—and Jesus’ command is that we love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).