Finding Our Strength in God’s Divine Favor[Author’s Note: A while back I received an e-mail from an old friend and brother in Christ who I hadn’t spoken to in several years. Among other things, he told me he was seeking to better understand what it means to be “strong in grace,” and that any insight I could impart to him would be greatly appreciated. Not being a believer in the concept of coincidence, I took his contacting me as a call from the Lord speaking to both our hearts. The following study came about from his request.]
In 2 Timothy, Paul charges Timothy to be strong in grace:
2 Timothy 2:1
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
I used to read this verse and think that Paul, in admonishing Timothy to be strong in grace, was telling him to “have a lot of it.” For example, if I were to tell my son to be “strong in wisdom,” you might conclude that I was using “strong” as an adjective to encourage him to “have a lot of it” in conducting his life. But this understanding cannot be applied sensibly to this verse, since Paul’s charge to Timothy concerned grace—i.e., unmerited divine favor. If it is distributed by God’s prerogative alone, then what could Timothy possibly have done by his own devices to insure that he “had a lot of it”?
What exactly was Paul admonishing Timothy to do? Was he telling him to be “extra spiritual” so that God would reward him with more grace? Again, that conclusion runs counter to the very concept of grace, yet at times we as Christians fall into the trap of thinking that God’s grace and love for us are a result of how righteous and sanctified a life we live. How wrong can we be? God loves us because that’s His nature, not because we act “good enough” to deserve it.
It is unfortunate that many struggling Christians miss the goodness God has for them, even in their struggles. They think it’s up to them to “get their act together” before God will give them his blessings. Quite the contrary, Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has already blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. God’s grace is absolutely not dependent on our works, but on His goodness.
Dig a Little Deeper in the Well
God’s Word contains many gems for those who are willing to seek them out. But, just as in nature, some of the greatest riches are not just lying around, but are found below the surface if we are willing to do some work to find them.
(1) My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
(2) turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding,
(3) and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
(4) and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
(5) then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
Our understanding of 2 Timothy 2:1 will be greatly enhanced by doing some work to understand a few of the word meanings and grammar Paul used. To begin with, E. W. Bullinger’s A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament tells us that the word “strong” in this verse is the Greek word endunamoo—a verb (not an adjective!) which means “to strengthen in, i.e., to render strong, to impart strength.” According to Zondervan’s The Analytical Greek Lexicon, it also carries the sense of “to acquire strength, to be strong, to summon up strength, or put forth energy.” This word is used eight times in the New Testament.
In addition, since the word “strong” in this verse is a verb, we ought to briefly review some basic grammar concerning verbs to properly understand Paul’s words. A verb can be used in one of three voices—active, passive, or middle (also known as reflexive). Voice indicates the relationship between the subject and the action being carried out. For instance, the active voice indicates that the subject is simply carrying out an action, as in, “Johnny washed the dishes.” The passive voice indicates that the action is being carried out upon the subject by someone or something else, as in, “The dishes were washed by Johnny.” The middle voice indicates that the subject is carrying out an action upon itself, as in, “Johnny washed himself.” As is evident in these examples, changing the voice of a verb can cause it to carry very different meanings.
The Greek verb endunamoo is used in all three voices among its eight uses in the New Testament. However, according to The Analytical Greek Lexicon, here in 2 Timothy 2:1, it is used in the middle voice. Perhaps, then, a more descriptive translation of endunamoo as it is used here would be “…find your strength…” It conveys an action Timothy was to carry out on himself!
Another significant word in this verse is one that perhaps seems the least important—the word “in.” It is the Greek word en, which, according to Bullinger’s Lexicon and Concordance, carries the idea of “being or remaining within, with the primary idea of rest in any place or thing.” Timothy’s strength was not to be found in or by his own abilities, but rather by abiding and resting in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
In effect, Paul was telling Timothy, “God has already empowered you, Timothy. Now you act and bring into evidence what God has already empowered you with.” Timothy was not to wait around for God to strengthen him, but rather to “summon up” what God had already given him.
It’s In There!
To see this truth more clearly, we need to look at the context of 2 Timothy 2:1 as established in 2 Timothy Chapter 1:
2 Timothy 1:6-9 and 13-14
(6) For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
(7) For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power [dunamis – “inherent power” – the root word of endunamoo], of love and self-discipline.
(8) 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 [dunamis – “inherent power”] of God,
(9) who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
(13) What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.
(14) Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit (holy spirit) who lives in us.
The marginal note in the Ryrie NASB Study Bible, Expanded Edition for 2 Timothy 2:1 reads, “This verse seems to sum up the teaching of Chapter 1. Timothy, you have the gift of power from God through Christ (1:7); now find your strength in this gift of grace.”
God had already empowered Timothy with the holy spirit and gift (equipping) ministries. Paul was admonishing him to not be intimidated into inaction, but to use what God had already done for him and in him by His grace. Timothy was not to rely on his own ability and strength, but to be ever vigilant, and to exercise and carry out what God had already entrusted to him.
Paul’s Example to Timothy
The Apostle Paul’s life was a great example to Timothy in this area. Several of the other uses of the word endunamoo further exemplify this:
2 Timothy 4:16 and 17
(16) At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.
(17) But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength [endunamoo], so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.
Notice it says that the Lord stood at his side and provided his strength to Paul. Both the Lord and Paul were at work here, each doing their part. The circumstances certainly seemed bleak. But, as we read elsewhere in Scripture, Paul said:
I can do everything through him who gives me strength (endunamoo).
Paul’s own strengths and abilities were not the determining factor when it came to his taking a stand. He had learned to rely on the Lord’s strength in any situation.
We can see in other sections of Scripture that Paul knew that the source of his strength was not in his own abilities. In 2 Corinthians 12 we read of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” He pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away, but the Lord answered:
2 Corinthians 12:9 and 10
(9) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power [dunamis – “inherent power”] is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power [dunamis – “inherent power”] may rest [literally “pitch a tent”] on me.
(10) That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak [literally “strengthless”], them I am strong [dunatos – “powerful”].
Paul was telling the Corinthians that when his own energies failed, he could then really exercise Christ’s power.
For Our Learning
God’s people relied on His strength in dark circumstances many times in the Old Testament as well. In 1 Samuel 30, David had reached perhaps one of the greatest low points in his life. How did David react to desperate circumstances? Surely a man such as David with great talent and ability could deal with any situation. So how did he handle it?
1 Samuel 18 – 30 sets the context for us. King Saul, because of his escalating jealously and the spiritual darkness in his life, had attempted to kill David several times. David and his men became fugitives from Saul’s army, hiding from them to escape capture and death. Eventually, they sought refuge from Saul with the Philistines and joined their army (Talk about “strange bedfellows”!). Achish, the Philistine king of Gath, gave David the city of Ziklag for a home for him and his men and their families. So David and his men fought on the side of the Philistines. But the Philistine commanders didn’t trust David and forced him and his men to leave. Upon returning to Ziklag, they found that the Amalekites had raided and burned the town and had carried off their wives and families. Needless to say, after all they had been through with Saul and the Philistines, this discovery was devastating.
1 Samuel 30:3 and 4
(3) When David and his men returned to Ziklag they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive.
(4) So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.
Have you ever been so distraught that you cried until you had no more strength left to cry? What depth of sorrow and anguish they must have felt! You could surmise that this day was perhaps the lowest of the low in their lives. Yet verse 6 shows David’s steadfast heart toward God despite the worst of circumstances:
1 Samuel 30:6
David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found his strength in the Lord his God.
Devastating circumstances can be springboards for us to increase our trust in the Lord. God has never promised that life will be without conflict. Yet how many times does God’s Word encourage us to “fear not”? We can lean on the Lord’s everlasting arms in those challenging times in our lives, and find our strength in His grace—in what he has made us and already given to us. However, we must realize that our own flesh, our own devices, are wholly inadequate by themselves. We must learn to heed Proverbs 3:6 and trust in the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding.
If you read on in 1 Samuel 30, you will find that David inquired of the Lord as to whether or not he could prevail over the Amalakite raiding party. He did not immediately rely on his own military prowess and strength, but sought the Lord’s guidance and wisdom. David and his men did rescue all their families and recovered all their stolen goods, and then some. He acknowledged that the victory was the Lord’s, not because of the ability of him or his men.
Jars of Clay
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul puts into perspective our human frailty in relationship to God’s power:
2 Corinthians 4:7
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power (dunamis – “inherent power”) is from God and not from us.
It is abundantly evident in God’s Word that we require God’s power and strength to carry out the work He has called us to do. Our own abilities are certainly the raw materials God needs, but without His strength in manifestation in our lives, our abilities alone do not measure up to the task. What God looks for in us is a willing and humble heart to faithfully find our strength in His grace and do our part.
1 Timothy 1:12
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength [endunamoo], that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.
So how do we go about finding our strength in the Lord’s grace? The answer to this question begins back in 2 Corinthians:
2 Corinthians 4:10 and 11
(10) We always carry about in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
(11) For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.
As Romans 6:11 admonishes us, we must daily reckon our old man dead so that we can walk in the newness of the life Christ Jesus has made available. Perhaps you’re familiar with the phrase “dying to self.” As Jesus said in the Gospels, “he that loses his life will find it.” As long as we give heed to our old man, or allow our human frailties to hold us back, or put our trust in our own abilities, we will stifle the newness of Christ’s life and strength manifested in us.
The Charge to Carry On
Back in 2 Timothy 2, we can now better understand the significance and ramifications of Paul’s charge to Timothy—a vitally important and monumental task that would require great strength, love, and self-discipline to accomplish.
2 Timothy 2:2
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
The times in the First Century Church were certainly bleak. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:15, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me….” He knew his life and ministry were coming to an end, so he was exhorting Timothy to carry on the work. But Timothy would have to rely on God’s grace and strength, and day by day reckon his old man dead as well.
God is now calling us also to carry on the work. We have the examples of men such as Paul and David, just as Timothy did. Therefore, we need to heed the admonition of God’s Word:
(10) Finally, be strong [“find your strength” – endunamoo – middle voice] in the Lord and in his mighty power [literally “exerted strength”].
(11) Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
(12) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
(13) Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.