Oh what a difference a verb makes.
Paul was no softie in the faith. Eternity was at stake. This was no time to be dreaming about fantasy football.
So when Paul admonished Timothy, his young ministerial protege, he gave him a few word pictures of what it means to be a minister of the gospel. Paul said ministers are:
Soldiers in a life and death spiritual warfare.
Athletes competing for the victor's crown.
Hard-working farmers with hungry mouths to feed.
Hearing those descriptions, I figure Paul is going to lay it on thick as he coaches his younger friend to pursue God: "Win one for the Gipper!", "Leave it all on the field", or "Suck it up soldier." Instead he says
Pardon the technicality, but the grammar here is significant. The verb is an imperative so think "strong admonition," or "holy command." Paul is telling Tim, "This is not optional." But, and this is a very big BUT, Paul employs the passive voice. This implies:
Most of us approach life with the mindset, "If it's going to be it's up to me."
Want to lose weight? Get out there and exercise.
Want to build muscle mass? Pump iron and add those extra weights.
Want to build your bank account? Save those extra dollars.
Want to get smarter? Put your nose in a book. Ask questions.
But here Paul is commending a different approach.
Apparently, Timothy was wavering when it came to serving God. In the face of his challenges Paul is urging him, "Seek the power that God makes available. Timothy, let yourself be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus." In other words,
Timothy's challenge is our challenge: Life is difficult. Following God is not always pleasant or easy. At times it is intimidating to take on God's assignment.
The answer to such difficulties is not necessarily "Work harder!" though we will have to work. No. The crazy way God makes us stronger begins with recognizing His authority and yielding to his strength. He saved us by grace. He carries us by his grace.
I was grappling with a challenge earlier this week when I came upon this passage from Isaiah 51 in my time of personal worship. It was and is a great reminder of why we yield ourselves, our day, and our challenges to God:
12 “I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass,
13 and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth,
and you fear continually all the day
15 I am the Lord your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name.
16 And I have put my words in your mouth
and covered you in the shadow of my hand,
The Lord of hosts has you covered. This is your reality. This is your strength.
Start here and stay here today.
"Strengthening for ministry comes though . . ." from Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus. The New International Commentary On The New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2006. Pages 488.
"Yield yourself to divine empowerment" from Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, page 489.