Three Reminders from Paul in Captivity
Over this last year, we've experienced what it is like to be quarantined, housebound, and in isolation. Does the Bible have any advice on this time? Yes, in fact, it does. The Apostle Paul spent a great deal of time in prison, captivity, and under house arrest. During one of those times, he wrote a letter to his mentee, Timothy, giving him the following advice.
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. 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. But God’s word is not chained” - 2 Timothy 2:1-9
1. God’s grace leads to strength (v. 1)
According to The Bible Knowledge Commentary on the New Testament:
Paul was a prisoner in a Roman dungeon when he wrote [2 Timothy], the last of his epistles, to Timothy. The date, as best it can be established, was approximately A.D. 67. Not long afterward, according to tradition, the apostle was beheaded. . . . The purpose of 2 Timothy was to encourage Timothy in his ministry at Ephesus. The primary theme of the letter is the need for faithfulness in the face of hardship.
If anyone understood and needed God’s strength, it was Paul as he was writing from a Roman dungeon shortly before being martyred. Paul understood captivity. He understood being housebound. He was bound or chained for spreading, not a contagious virus, but a contagious gospel, or good news!
Paul’s advice to Timothy, his son in the faith, was to be strong, or be empowered! Timothy was not going to find his strength within himself. He was not going to find it by going to the gym and working out, by eating healthy, by listening to podcasts by people stronger than himself. His strength would be found in one place only: in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. This means that Timothy’s strength would be a gift from God. The same good news or gospel that landed Paul in prison would be Timothy’s solution in times of weakness.
Have you ever felt weak, or felt like giving up? Paul knew that Timothy would feel this way, especially in ministry. “After being released from his first Roman imprisonment Paul, with Timothy by his side, evidently revisited some of the churches in Asia, including Ephesus. On his departure from Ephesus, Paul left Timothy behind to provide leadership to the congregation.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)
Second Timothy 1:7 gives us a hint that Timothy may have struggled with fear. Paul wrote: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Another translation puts it this way: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Timothy needed reminders not to fear, but to lean on Jesus for strength! In another of Paul’s epistles (letters), Jesus Himself reminds Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
How is God’s grace strengthening you currently?
2. God’s plan is still disciple-making (v. 2)
One thing many of us are doing right now, during this challenging time of COVID-19, is sharing hope and encouragement on social media. (Hopefully we’re not aiding in the spread of fear and panic.) Paul told Timothy to do exactly that! He said, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” In other words, in hard times, pass along trusted advice and encouragement! However, there’s more to it than that. Instead of simply spreading good news far and wide (which is okay too), Paul encourages Timothy to be selective in his audience. He is to entrust Paul’s words to “reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
This is intentionality! This is disciple-making! A farmer doesn’t fling his precious, costly seed all over the county. He plants the seeds in cultivated soil. He wants a harvest! We know from the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 that seeds sown on hard ground don’t grow well. Even if they spring up, they don’t reach maturity. This is the point that Paul is making to Timothy. Be choosy. Be intentional. You will reap what you sow, so sow with wisdom. Find reliable people who will continue to teach others and spread the gospel and invest in THEM. Why? It yields a greater harvest when we make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples. It’s about multiplication.
Use this time of having to stay at home to start an online Bible study with someone.
Find a prayer partner and contact each other weekly for prayer.
Ask someone you trust to keep you spiritually accountable during this time.
Find ways to share God’s love and truth with someone you’ve been praying for.
Be intentional about training up your own children or grandchildren in the faith.
Timothy had this kind of spiritual heritage! His mother and grandmother sowed the seed of faith in his heart as a young child and it grew to maturity and reproduced!
“I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.” - 2 Timothy 1:3-5
How will you begin or continue making disciples even in this difficult time?
3. God’s Word is not bound (even when we are) (v. 9)
There are times in life when we are limited. Paul was writing from a dungeon prison. You are most likely reading this from a house you are now bound to, apart from maybe a trip to the grocery store or a walk outside. A large portion of the globe is currently housebound due to a global pandemic. But, Paul reminded Timothy, the Word of God is NOT bound! Even in the technologically challenged age in which Paul was writing, the Word of God was spreading: through letters, through God’s people, through the growth of the early church, even through persecution. Nothing can stop God and His Word!
Christ said to Peter, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Nothing can stop God.
How will you communicate the Word of God during this time?
Blog by Kristi Walker of CrossWay International Baptist Church.
Published on 15. September 2021 from Berlin, Germany.
Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash.