The other day I was reading in 2 Timothy, and a beautifully unique phrase jumped out at me. Paul says to Timothy, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” (2 Timothy 2:1).
I know I’ve read this book of the Bible several times, but this verse seemed brand new to me… I must not have noticed it before. (And that’s why/how Bible study never gets old.)
I wondered, what does it mean to be “strong in the grace that is in Christ”?
I liked the sound of it… but what does it mean?
I backed up a paragraph in the text to see what was going on right before Paul wrote this. He was singing the praises of a man named Onesiphorus because he was the only one in Asia who hadn’t deserted Paul. Instead, this guy helped Paul, and Paul was grateful.
Paul follows that report with our verse, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The word “then” suggests our verse is connected with Onesiphorus’ story. What’s the correlation?
Perhaps Paul wants Timothy to consider Onesiphorus as a model for what it means to be strong in the grace that is in Christ. If that’s the case, Onesiphorus shows that strength by “refreshing” Paul (serving him in love), by not being ashamed of Paul’s being in prison (being willing to love Paul even in the face of social stigma and possible persecution), and by helping Paul in “many ways” in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:15-18).
Onesiphorus sounds like Superstar Christian of the Year. When everyone else refused to help Paul any longer, Onesiphorus went above and beyond to help Paul. It’s almost as if Onesiphorus had supernatural strength…
I began to wonder how other translations of our verse read. A couple caught my eye.
The NLT reads, “Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus.”
The ESV reads, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Unlike the NIV (1984) translation I read initially, both of these translations more clearly communicate the intended meaning of the verse: believers are to be strengthened or made strong by Jesus’ grace given to them. We should derive our strength for the hard road that is living a fruitful Christian life from the grace of Jesus.
Another verse in 2 Timothy speaks to this idea, “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control,” (2 Timothy 1:7). Our spirit of power literally comes from God. Like Onesiphorus, we are to lean on God’s grace to strengthen us for the tasks He has for us.
In another Pauline letter, we find a similar verse, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” (Ephesians 6:10). We don’t have to conjure up our own strength, and we aren’t commanded to be strong in our own power. Our strength for whatever we do must come from God or we aren’t going to be able to do it for long.
And as our original verse suggests, the strength we get from the Lord is given to us by grace alone. We aren’t deserving of it. We can’t manipulate it out of Him. It is only by the grace of Jesus that the Lord is willing to strengthen us.
In whatever God is calling you, my friend, to do today, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.