If you had to describe your Christian life with a metaphor, what would it be? Slug or an ant, someone who collects money at a toll both or a professional athlete, part time employee or someone who works 16 hours a day, a retired person or a soldier at war? Do the metaphors of soldier, athlete and farmer that Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2 describe your Christian life?
If you attempt to live the Christian life, it won't be long before you realize how difficult that is in our society. By living the Christian life, I mean: living a holy life and aggressively seeking to sharing your faith - to make disciples. We have a responsibility to share the truth of the gospel with others, and this is not easy. People living in sin do not want to hear the truth of God's Word.
It's easy to become discouraged in the Christian life. It's easy to become weary, weak, disillusioned, fearful, even shallow in your confidence, because the battle is hard, it's incessant, and we're human. That's where Timothy is, and it's where we often find ourselves if we are honest. So Paul tells Timothy to be strong in grace.
2 Timothy 2:1 (NKJV) You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
We said last time that the word "grace" is used here to mean: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." Paul wanted Timothy to appropriate God's grace and be strong in it. We appropriate the grace of God by humility. We must humble ourselves before God.
James 4:6 (NKJV) But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
The second thing Paul tells Timothy is that he is to pass on the truth of God to others who will be able to hand it on to still others. He says:
2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV) And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
That word is not addressed to Timothy or pastors only; it is addressed to Christians everywhere. We have a tremendous responsibility to communicate truth to our children, to our friends, and to our neighbors. We all are expected to be communicators of the truth, to pass on what we ourselves are deeply convinced is true. We are all to be making disciples. The word "teach" here is didasko, which means: "to instruct, to teach." Paul is saying, "I taught you, you teach others who will in turn teach others." We are ALL called to be teachers. Someone taught you, you are to teach someone else.
If you were to spend one year teaching someone the truths of God's Word, and at the end of that year they went out and did the same along with you, in fifteen years you could have taught 8,192 people. Think about that!
We are all to be disciples and to make disciples, and that means: you have to be diligent to learn the truth of God's Word, and you must live it out, model it, and teach others to do so also. This isn't easy, so in verses 3-6, Paul gives Timothy three metaphors to encourage him in this work. All three, the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer are taken from common life and would have been very familiar to Timothy. They emphasize certain things that are very important to spiritual strength. We're to have the dedication of a soldier, the discipline of an athlete, and the diligence of a farmer.
2 Timothy 2:3 (NKJV) You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
The use of a soldier is a call to recognize that we are in a battle, a spiritual war. Christian ministry is war. It's so easy to forget that we're in a war, because we live in an environment that while philosophically is hostile against Christianity, legally and politically it's not. So we're not really battered by the system or called to give our life. So, we seem to sink to the lowest level because sacrifice isn't called for. Being a Christian won't keep you out of the university, it won't alienate you socially, it won't keep you from getting a good job, it won't get you thrown in jail, and therefore, it's hard for us to be heroic soldiers, so we tend to forget we are in a war.
Most Christians are so far from the front line that the signs of war are never seen. If you're not trying to live as salt and light, you won't see much of the battle.
The dedication of a soldier involves two things. First, it involves endurance in suffering. The words "endure hardness" are from the Greek word kakopatheo, it means: "to suffer hardship." It could be translated, "take your share of suffering or rough treatment. " It implies that every Christian must expect some measure of ill-treatment as every soldier does; fatigues, burdens, and deprivations. You're going to be hurt, you'll be wounded, expect it, it comes with war.
Just as a soldier accepts suffering as a normal part of being a soldier, so should the Christian accept suffering for the sake of the gospel. I'm not speaking here of suffering from disease or broken relationships, but of suffering that is a direct result of being a Christian. Timothy is expected to share and defend the gospel even though he may, as a result, be abandoned by others and even imprisoned.
The message of the gospel is not acceptable in our "politically correct" society. The gospel confronts sin while society increasingly accommodates sin. The gospel judges people's lives while society preaches "judge no one". Christ insists that He is the only way:
John 14:6 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
While society claims "there are many ways". In the next chapter, Paul states what should be obvious to us, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (3:12).
I don't enjoy criticism. I am not pleased when a friend is offended by my insistence that Christ is the way to eternal life. But as a soldier of Christ, I am called - and you are called - to be bold in our proclamation of the gospel.
I am grateful for the realism of the recent movie "Saving Private Ryan." with regard to war. Thanks to that movie, we have seen the awful gore, the blood, and mud, sweat and tears of war paraded before us.
War is an evil thing; there is nothing glorious about it. War results in death, the maiming of bodies and the destruction of minds. War is part of the consequences of evil in human society, so it is unavoidable.
A soldier has to suffer. War is not a picnic. A soldier does not go out to enjoy life, to see the world, and have many wonderful experiences of adventure and travel, despite what the recruitment posters say. If warfare breaks out, it is going to mean he is faced with ugly, arduous, uncomfortable living. Paul is saying that the Christian faces the same thing.
I spent five years in the Navy, but it was during peace time so it was much like a regular job. But to those who go to war, it demands endurance in suffering.
We are not called to be Christians to merely enjoy life, to have everything around us pleasant and comfortable. That has been the deadly danger of evangelical Christianity for far too many decades. We all want the life of ease and comfort.
The second thing about a soldier is that he requires a degree of single-mindedness; soldiers have only one objective - to please their commander.
2 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV) No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
That was particularly true in the Roman army; a commander would gather around him men who knew him, loved him, trusted him and would follow him anywhere. Those were the ones who won the great battles for Rome.
The apostle picks that up and says that is the way Christians ought to be. Our one objective is not to get something for ourselves, but to please the Lord.
Attending to the affairs of your family, attending to your responsibilities at work, taking time to enjoy your hobbies - these are all reasonable pursuits. The trouble is, most of us have become "entangled" in these pursuits to the extent that we are ineffective as a soldier of Christ.
The word for entangled means: "to become entwined with", like an ivy wrapped around a post. Paul does not forbid normal involvement with daily necessities, but he does negate becoming wrapped up in them in any way that hinders our service.
We have become entangled in our careers. We have become entangled in social clubs. We have become entangled in family life. We have become entangled in home renovations and gardening. Yes, the Lord wants you to be a good family person. Yes, the Lord wants you to be a good worker, but not at the expense of the gospel. Your first responsibility is to "please the one who enlisted (you) ". Being a committed Christian means putting Christ first in your life .
The objective is that, in the midst of whatever we do, whatever our line of business, we are manifesting the character of Jesus Christ. We are seeking to be pleasing to him. The point here is that we are to renounce everything which hinders the real purpose of the soldier, which in our case is to make disciples. There is nothing wrong with the affairs of this life until they entangle you.
There is a type of Christianity around today, which I call "Amway Christianity," which suggests that God's reason for coming into your life is to make you rich. It says that if you are faithful to him, if you are a good, hardworking salesman, you will end up wearing furs and driving a Lexus, and that is the sign of God's blessing upon your ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth of the New Testament. Would you describe the life of Paul as one of ease and riches?
2 Corinthians 11:23-28 (NKJV) Are they ministers of Christ?; I speak as a fool; I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
Paul sure missed out on the health/wealth gospel. He clearly taught that the Christian life was one of suffering.
1 Thessalonians 3:4 (NKJV) For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.
Does this mean that we must go out and purposely seek suffering? Does it mean that we must become masochistic? Do we need to go out and locate the biggest, meanest, ugliest unbeliever we can and goad and provoke him into breaking our face? NO! It means, though, that if it is a choice of either suffering for Jesus' sake or denying Him and falling from our commitment, the right choice is suffering. If serving Jesus means inconvenience, cost, a change of personal plans and adjustment of our own agenda, be faithful! Pay the price, suffer as a good soldier!
We know from Hebrews 13:23 that Timothy did suffer as Paul suffered. Timothy ended up in prison for the faith. It speaks about him being released, but that means that he had spent some time in prison.
Today as well, in many places in the world, faithful Christians who share the gospel are often arrested and imprisoned. They endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
The metaphor of a soldier speaks of dedication. Are you dedicated to Christ to the point where you are willing to "endure hardness" and "not get entangled with the affairs of this life" or have you gone AWOL?
During the Korean Conflict in 1952, Billy Graham went for a Christmas Tour to preach to the missionaries and troops. In a field hospital about a mile behind the front lines, he encountered a young man who had been so badly wounded that he would never walk again. He was suspended in a special bed made of canvas and steel which caused him to face downward, looking at the floor. His spirits were stronger than his body, and he gladly welcomed Billy to his bedside. He said, "We've all been praying for you and looking forward to your coming. I won't be able to be at the service." This young man with his horribly ruined body, but courageous spirit, represents all of us who endeavor to be soldiers for Jesus Christ, and who suffer hardships along the way.
Then, Paul says, "Being a faithful Christian requires the discipline of an athlete":
2 Timothy 2:5 (NKJV) And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
The word "competes" here is the Greek word athleo, which means: "to contend in competitive games."
Every athlete learns that he has to deny himself certain things if he wants to win. He cannot eat just any kind of food; he has to give up sweets, french fries, and all the rich, luxurious indulgences that others can freely have. He may have to eat things that don't really thrill his pallet while others enjoy something tasty, but he does it. The athlete does not indulge in certain pleasures, he disciplines himself.
When I wrestled in high school, it involved discipline to diet, run wind sprints, and run up and down stairs. For what? A corruptible crown.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
As Christians, our discipline is not for a corruptible crown, but all we do counts for eternity. Our reward is incorruptible.
The victory belongs to the disciplined. Most people never reach their goals or accomplish what they could have had they been disciplined. We must discipline ourselves to spend time in God's Word, pray, fellowship with other Christians.
A Christian is called to say, "No" to many things today. There are visual stimuli on every side that tempt us to give in, to indulge ourselves in things that would harm us and our testimony. But a Christian soldier has to say, "No! I won't do it. Those things lead to distraction, to disruption and to a lessening of spiritual intensity in my life; I won't do them." That is the discipline of an athlete. So, this second metaphor of an athlete stresses the necessity for self-discipline.
Then, Paul says, those who are making disciples need the diligence of a farmer:
2 Timothy 2:6 (NKJV) The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.
The emphasis there is upon the word, hard-working. The words "hard-working" are from the Greek word kopiao, which means: "to work to the point of exhaustion." Living the Christian life is not just floating through life with God working for you. Rather, it is you working for God, enjoying the privilege of being his faithful servant through whom he does his work today. There is no greater calling than that. Yet, the attitude of many Christians today is, "I've become a Christian in order to get God to bless me, and work for me. If he doesn't do it the way I want, I'm ready to quit. I don't want anything to do with Christianity when it gets difficult." That's the very thing the apostle is warning against in this passage.
Being a committed Christian who is seeking to be a disciple maker takes long hours of labor. A Christian is called upon to reprogram the computer of his mind to think differently than other people think. That is not accomplished easily. It takes hours of reading the Bible and reading books about the Bible, until you see life the way the Bible sees it. It takes, perhaps, hours of listening to tapes, attending services, sharing and relating with other Christians as they are struggling and letting them see how you are. It takes diligent labor. It is not something that comes automatically because you happen to be a Christian.
To expect your faith to grow without doing any work would be like a farmer expecting a crop without preparing the soil and without planting any seed. Being a Christian means working diligently with the resources we have been given .
The farmer's life is seen in drab contrast to that of the soldier or athlete. A soldier is often decorated for service beyond the call of duty; he wins medals and decorations which are awarded with praise from his commander-in-chief. The athlete wins prizes and trophies for his outstanding achievements in his field of competition; and as a rule, the crowds cheer and applaud the winner of such a prize.
The farmer leads a quiet life, primarily free from excitement, far removed from such glamor as attends the life of the soldier and athlete. The farmer pictures a man who works to the point of exhaustion, often in perpetual hum-drum duty. He plows, plants, fights the elements; too much rain, not enough rain, he fights bugs, weeds and animals that would eat his crops.
Like a farmer, we might have to rise up early and work hard, we do so in expectation of a harvest. Paul always sets before us that life is not the end of the story, that what we may have to give up here is made up for abundantly when we step out of time into eternity. That is the day for which we labor.
If you are going to be a strong Christian who is involved in ministry, you must see yourself as a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer; you must have dedication, discipline, and diligence. This is why there are so few people doing the work of the ministry - it's difficult. We want the easy road, the path of least resistance. When we face difficulty, our first thought is to quit, to give up.
Those three very expressive metaphors which Paul uses add up to saying one thing: Christians must commit themselves without reserve to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Resolutely follow your Lord. Admit no alternatives. Set yourselves to live a Christian lifestyle wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and refuse all others.
Notice what Paul says in verse 7:
2 Timothy 2:7 (NKJV) Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.
The word "consider" is the Greek word noieo, which means: "to exercise the mind, think it over, ponder." Paul is saying, "Think this over, the committed Christian life is not easy, you are to be a soldier, an athlete and a farmer; the work is hard, but God will provide all the grace you need as you live in dependence upon Him."
Every preacher - every Christian - must be diligent and faithful in reflecting upon the Word of God. We need to meditate on it; not just to read it as if it were merely words on a page, but to consider carefully what we read, for it is the inspired Word of God. As we diligently apply our minds, the Lord will give insight. That's a promise.
Let each of us, whatever place we are called to hold in the church, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Let us be good soldiers of Christ Jesus, serving Christ, our Captain, with single-minded devotion. As athletes who train and compete according to the rules, let us run the race of faith according to the Word of God. Like hardworking farmers, let us work hard at sowing and harvesting, knowing that we will benefit; the Lord will grant us a blessing and reward us greatly.
So, what metaphor would you use to describe your Christian life?