3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the commanding officer. 5 Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer ought to be the first to get a share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
2 Timothy 2:3-7
Only he who can see the invisible can do the impossible — Frank Gaines
The Apostle Paul believes his time of departure is at hand, so he is passing the torch to Timothy—and to us—using three insightful images. He describes a soldier fighting for victory, an athlete competing to win and a farmer working to produce a crop. Each of these figures represent some common character qualities that should also be true of all disciples of Christ.
The soldier endures hardship, the possibility of suffering, danger and facing the unknown. The Christian life is not easy. There are many battles, and our enemy is extremely powerful and subtle. Sometimes a dedicated Christian soldier feels like he or she is standing alone. However, our greatest encouragement is that Jesus Christ has already won the fight, and we need only to follow Him by faith. We are not fighting for victory but from victory.
The athlete does not win by accident. Winning is the result of hard work. It includes long hours of committed practice and a lifestyle of serious discipline and determination to be rewarded with the highest prize. The New Testament describes several “runners” who finished their course well, but the greatest of these was the Lord Jesus Himself. He becomes our model in Hebrews 12:1-2, as we see how He endured the cross “for the joy set before Him.”
The farmer does the hard labor of preparing the ground for plowing and planting. Stumps must be removed, hardness must be broken up, larger rocks must be dislodged, and thorns must be gathered and burned. This process demands discernment and diligence in order to see the harvest, and the same is true for a follower of Jesus.
In Paul’s day as it is today, soldiers, athletes and farmers had to be equipped to be effective and successful in doing their jobs. They needed skill, strength, focus, consecration and concentration to win the battle, to finish the race, and to see the victory and the harvest. As Christ’s disciples, we have no strength of our own. Instead, we must “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This explains why our Commander puts His disciples through difficult “maneuvers” so we can discover for ourselves our need to be equipped and enabled to finish our task successfully.
The disciple as soldier is equipped by putting on “the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18). The belt of truth holds us together with integrity, the breastplate of righteousness defends us from the evil one, with the shoes of peace we stand secure against our enemies, with the shield of faith we overcome the power of the enemy, the helmet of salvation protects our mind and our hearts, and with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, we defeat the evil one.
The athlete is trained by subjecting the body and the mind to discipline. Paul said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). There is no substitute for physical, mental and spiritual discipline if you want to be a winning Christian. After all, Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship, and discipleship and discipline go together. Discipline characterizes the soul of an army, the soul of an athlete, the soul of a farmer and the soul of a disciple.
The soldier expects victory, the athlete expects the crown, the farmer expects the harvest and the disciple expects an eternal reward. When the disciples of Christ choose to be faithful, God will make them fruitful and will crown them with the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4: 6-8). There is however a major contrast between the Greek races and the race of faith. The Greek winners received only a fading wreath, whereas the disciple of Christ will receive a crown of glory that will never fade (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Winning athletes know how to practice teamwork. Even a great Christian like Paul did not try to win the prize by himself. Over 70 people in the New Testament are mentioned by name in association with Paul. Are you connected to a ministry team that is serving together and encouraging one another to finish the race well?
- A farmer is one who takes the seed and plants it in the assigned field for the purpose of seeing the harvest. Are you investing your gifts, talents and resources in the lives of others to advance the Kingdom of Christ and to add to the harvest of souls?
- The good soldier has to be equipped to be in the battle. Are you actively engaged in training which grows your faith and your ability to be victorious in your witness as a disciple of Christ?
Choose one or more of the following activities to try as a family:
- Soldier: Set up a challenging obstacle course for your children. Record their time as they complete the course. Have them repeat the course several times. Note how their time gets shorter as they become more familiar with the course. Talk about how soldiers train for missions and tasks by completing the same task over and over to get better and faster at it.
- Athlete: Set up an abbreviated field day for your family. Give them unusual types of events that they haven’t already practiced, such as walking across the lawn with a marshmallow perched on the end of a spoon, kicking their shoe as far as possible, or crab walking. Allow them to compete in the same events over and over, timing them and noting how they were able to complete events faster with
- Farmer: Decide on a type of plant, vegetable, or flower to plant. Thoroughly plan for all of the steps necessary to complete the growth process. Discuss the financial investment, time required to reach maturity, amount of labor involved, etc. You might help your children try to break up a section of dirt, discuss what obstacles might occur during growth, shop for supplies, etc.
When you finish one or more of the activities, discuss how being a soldier/athlete/farmer is like being a Christian. Emphasize the importance of patience and perseverance to gain strength and skill. Compare the discipline needed to improve and succeed in these areas with the discipline needed to grow as a Christian. Make a list of specific disciplines your child could practice that would make him or her a stronger believer. Finally, discuss the differences between being a soldier/athlete/farmer and being a Christian. Emphasize that it is up to person to work hard to gain strength, speed, and skill. However, as a Christian, the Holy Spirit is the one who helps us to grow in our faith as we practice these disciplines.