2 Timothy 2:3-6 - Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life so that he may please the one who enlisted him to be a soldier. And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.
Second Timothy is the last correspondence we have from the apostle Paul. It was written to Timothy around 66AD. The Roman persecutions of the early Christians had already started. The pagan emperor Nero had blamed the Christians for the great fire in 64AD, and he used this as an excuse to throw many of them to the beasts in the Roman arena. It is recorded that Nero even used some Christians as human torches to light a sporting event in the imperial gardens. At this time, Paul was imprisoned and awaiting his sentence of death (2 Tim. 4:6-7). From a dungeon in Rome, Paul penned his last letter to Timothy, his faithful and "beloved son" in the faith (2 Timothy 1:2 and Philippians 2:19-22). Timothy had been brought to the Lord through the ministry of Paul about 20 years prior to this time--most likely when Timothy was a teenager. Since that time, a beautiful spiritual father-son relationship had developed between Paul and Timothy. Paul had taught young Timothy the great doctrines of the Christian faith. Timothy had accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. Faithful Timothy didn't "cop out" in the face of hardship and persecution. He didn't give up when Paul was imprisoned for a couple of years in Caesarea (AD 58-60; Acts 23-26). He didn't "run home" when Paul was shipped as a prisoner to Rome. Timothy stayed close to his spiritual father while Paul remained under arrest for another couple of years in Rome (AD 61-63; Acts 27-28). It is almost certain that Paul was released from this first Roman imprisonment and that he continued his missionary travels for a few more years (AD 63-65). Timothy went along as one of Paul's faithful fellow-workers. Some time before Paul's re-arrest by Roman authorities, Timothy was delegated by the apostle to remain at Ephesus to help pastor the church there. It may have been the tearful parting between Paul and Timothy at this time which is mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:4. Paul moved on in his travels, and as a faithful father he wrote back to Timothy with instructions and encouragement (the letter of 1 Timothy). The apostle continued to boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ (not Caesar!) was Lord wherever he went throughout the pagan Roman Empire. Of course it wasn't long before Paul was re-arrested and sent back to Rome. Chained as a criminal, he was placed in the dungeon to await his trial (2 Tim. 1:16 and 2:9). There in that cold and lonely cell Paul longed to see his faithful son Timothy again before he died (2 Tim. 1:4 and 4:9). We do not know whether Timothy made it to Rome before Paul was martyred. Reliable tradition indicates that soon after Paul wrote 2 Timothy he was executed at Rome--beheaded for his faith in Jesus Christ. During those last days in prison Paul reflected on the rough road ahead for the young Christian church. Not only was there going to be more physical persecution from without, but there would also be spiritual declension from within (2 Tim. 3). Already many had turned away from the full message that Paul preached (2 Tim. 1:15). With this prophetic insight, Paul wrote this last letter to his spiritual son and encouraged him to remain steadfast in the faith. In spite of the impending persecution and heresy, Timothy was to "preach the word" and "fulfill his ministry" (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Paul was concerned that the pure and complete gospel of Jesus Christ be carried on by faithful Christians like Timothy without changes or "watering down" (2 Tim. 1:13-14 and 2:1-2). In order to drive home the point of Timothy's crucial responsibility, Paul gave his son several models to follow. These models of the faithful Christian are found in chapter 2 of Second Timothy. Before proceeding to the models, let us look at the valuable and practical lesson of the father-son relationship between Paul and Timothy. Growing Christians need "Pauls" and "Timothys". Paul-Timothy relationships are helpful and Biblical. Is there a "Paul" or two in your life? If not, find an older and more mature Christian who would be willing to be a Paul to you--counsel you, teach you, write to you and pray consistently for you (2 Tim. 1:3). And what about your "Timothys"? Do you have one or two younger Christians whom you are bringing along in the faith? God has given you the unique privilege (and awesome responsibility!) of being the spiritual father or mother to that younger Christian in your dorm or school or neighborhood or church. In 2 Timothy 2:3-6 we find three models for the growing Christian to follow: the soldier, the athlete and the farmer. Each of these models shows us a particular aspect of the life of the faithful Christian that we are to follow. God did not put these models haphazardly into His Word for "local color"! Each model is there to show us something that God expects us to see in the life of the growing Christian. The key in the model of the soldier (vs3-4) is sacrifice. The soldier here is not the American soldier who "joins the army to see the world," but rather the Roman soldier who sacrificed all to please the Emperor. The good soldier sacrificed the easy life (v3) and the secure life (v4a) and the independent life (v4b). Paul had certainly measured up to this model throughout his life of sacrificial service for the Lord Jesus. Now soldier Timothy is encouraged to do the same. And God expects to see some sacrifice in the life of every growing Christian. He has given us this model not just to admire, but to follow! A life of ease and security and independence must go if we are to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ. The faithful Christian must sacrifice some of his free time and fun time and "easy life" time. Unsacrificed large bank accounts and worldly careers may bring earthly security, but they are the mark of questionable soldiers in the Lord's army. A good soldier does not "do his own thing", but sacrifices his independence and submits in obedience to his Commanding Officer. Are we soldiers who are willing to sacrifice? The model of the athlete is found in verse 5. The particular athlete in view here is the Greek marathon runner. A life of discipline was required as this athlete trained for the Greek games (forerunner of today's Olympic Games). Hours and hours of running and a disciplined lifestyle were demanded if the athlete was to be a winner. The serious athlete today knows what disciplined training is all about. The application to the growing Christian is obvious. We must be disciplined in our training in the Christian life. Training rules may include getting out of bed early each day to read God's Word and pray. Determination to memorize Scripture and to share our faith with non-Christians also involves healthy discipline. Many of us are "out of shape" because of no discipline in our training. The athlete must not only be disciplined in training but also disciplined in running. He must compete according to the rules of the race as well as keeping the training rules. Imagine a Greek runner on his way into the crowd-filled stadium to complete the last few laps of the long marathon run. As he comes to the final turn of the last lap he is still 25 yards behind the lead runner. He realizes he can't overtake him, so he cuts across the field to the finish line! But no prize! The wreath must go to the disciplined runner. How true this is in the Christian life. What good is my Christian testimony on campus if I cheat on exams? What kind of Christian am I if I conveniently "forget" to pay back some money, or keep the money from a store that mistakenly undercharged me? What good is my disciplined life of memorizing a verse a day, etc., etc., if I am not disciplined in the way I "play the game"? God expects me to be like the athlete who wins the prize--disciplined in training and disciplined in running! Another model that Paul gives to his son Timothy is that of the hard-working farmer (v6). The key idea in the model of the farmer is that of labor. The life of the farmer in Paul's day (and even today) was characterized by hard work. The labor of the farmer is especially significant because it is always done with patience and it is directed toward the harvest. The hard work of preparing the ground, planting the seed, cultivating and watering the tender plants takes a lot of patience. There are no "instant results" in farming! And the one aim of all this patient labor is the harvest. That's what farming is all about. What lessons for the growing Christian! The Lord expects us to work hard in our service for Him even though there may not be "overnight success". The labor of the Christian in God's fields is sometimes very discouraging. Super patience is needed at times to sow the good seed of the Word of God and to cultivate the babes in Christ. But the harvest makes it all worth while! It is sheer joy for the hard-working Christian to see the Word he has planted take root in the heart and life of a person and finally result in a strong fruit-producing Christian. That is what it means for the Christian to "receive his share of the crops". And the reward does not end on this earth! Paul gives other models to Timothy in the second chapter (can you find them all?). They are included in God's Word as patterns for all faithful Christians to follow. We must confess that most of the time we are like peace-time soldiers, weekend athletes and backyard farmers. God is looking for soldiers who sacrifice, athletes who are disciplined, and farmers who labor.