“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
This passage makes clear that winning the battles of spiritual warfare requires the Lord’s strength in us. This raises a critical question: How do we acquire the necessary strength? How do we build the Lord’s strength and power into our lives?
Operating in the strength of the Lord is not passive. Nor is it purely a matter of self-effort. Scripture puts an emphasis on our action in response to God’s action.
Some Christians are so self-confident that they think they can manage by themselves without the Lord’s strength and armor. Others are so self-distrustful that they don’t think they have anything to contribute to their victory in spiritual warfare. Both are mistaken. Paul expresses the necessity for both divine empowerment and our effort.
The power is indeed the Lord’s, and without the strength of his might we will stumble and fall. Nevertheless, we need to be strong in the Lord and in his power, or more accurately we need to “be strengthened.” The verb form in this verse is a passive present which could be rendered “Strengthen yourselves in the Lord.”
What immediately comes to mind when I read this is physical training. If we want to be strong physically, we must train. Running, lifting, and good nutrition are required. We do not build physical endurance and strength simply by reading or talking about exercise; we must actually do the work. Repeatedly. Over time. And it is possible (and common) to train hard, eat right, and get in great shape … and then for some reason stop training and get out of shape.
Developing spiritual strength and endurance operates the same way. We must do the work. We must train. This is precisely what Paul wrote to Timothy.
“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (I Timothy 4:7-10)
The original Greek text really brings Paul’s message here alive. The word for “train yourself” that he uses in verse 7 is gumnazo, which means “exercise.” This is the origin of our word gymnasium. The words that he uses in verse 10 for “we toil and strive” are kopos and agonizomai.
Kopos means “laborious toil.”
Agonizomai means “to struggle, strive, contend” as in an athletic contest. This is the origin of our word agonize.
What a clear picture! Developing spiritual strength and godliness requires us to train. And in our training we must toil, strive, struggle, contend, and even at times agonize. This is the only pathway to the development of the spiritual strength necessary for spiritual warfare. Those Christians who sit passively and wait for God to give them strength or make them strong are making a very big mistake.
And of course, our effort and training is all done in faith. Our training is guided by God’s Word, empowered by God’s Spirit, and sustained by prayer. We are not to “train” apart from Christ. We must abide in him.
Trust God and do the work.