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We know hard work is necessary in athletics, the arts, and sciences; but when it comes to our spiritual life, we hesitate. The words “discipline, train, exercise” sound so much like legalism. But this line of thinking is incorrect. Legalism is always self-centered, whereas the disciplines are always God-centered. The heart of a legalist thinks: “Doing this will help me gain merit with God”. The heart of the follower of Christ thinks: “I want to do this because I love God and seek to please Him”.
Paul had a great experience in knowing this difference, so he never would give an inch to legalists, while constantly challenging believers everywhere to “exercise, train, discipline yourself toward godliness” Paul’s life is a legendary example of personal denial and sacrificial discipline, yet always he places the source of his strength as God’s grace. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:10 (NKJV): But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Paul is laying out the survival guide for operating in less than ideal conditions. Timothy was more than anything else, “normal”. He was neither an apostle nor a prophet. He didn’t write Scripture, he just tried to understand it, live it, and teach it. Timothy is probably more like each of us than most other New Testament personalities. If you had read his FB page back then you would have noticed a few things about Timothy. There are biographical notes that can be found in Acts and 1 & 2 Timothy: Timothy was from a less than perfect home; he struggled with fear, sorrows, and opposition. He frequently cried, and Paul had to keep encouraging him not to quit.
That is where many believers may find themselves at the dawn of this New Year called 2021: coming from a less than perfect home; facing struggles with fear, sorrows, and opposition; wanting not to quit.
But, above all those challenges Timothy faced personally, there was also the horrible place that he had to live. Paul had urged Timothy to stay on and serve at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3).