What do a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer have in common? And, what on earth do they have to do with YOU?
A Threefold Exhortation
“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Timothy 2:4-7, NIV).
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is a great challenge about leadership on the Christian walk, and it is full of subtle details that make it applicable no matter who you are. Paul begins by saying, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier”. Being a Christian, Paul says, is like being a soldier. We are in a battle. Soldiers have a chain of command. We have orders. We experience suffering.
Do as I DO
Paul is not a distant commander asking Timothy to put himself in harm’s way. He is not challenging Timothy to lead from afar, he is calling him to his side in the battle’s fray. Paul is not consulting, or leading theoretically. He is familiar with the hardships, the inconveniences, and the requirements of battle. His advice is true because it comes from experience. What soldier wouldn’t follow a leader like that? A good soldier understands his/her orders, and is committed to carrying out his/her mission. They stay focused on the objective.
Tell me, what is YOUR mission? How entangled are you in other affairs? How much do you want to please your commanding officer? Could you use a little more of Paul’s advice yourself?
But wait, there’s more! Apparently following Christ involves way more than going to church once a week. Paul also compares the Christian life to running a race. Why this analogy? Christians as athletes? Running to win? Athletes train. Athletes compete. They play by the rules. They strive mightily, and leave it all out there on the field…
And if That’s Not Enough
Do we really do those things in our spiritual lives? How much do you train? Are you spiritually fit? How hard do you strive? How badly do you want the prize? Most athletes train every day, fine-tuning their bodies or trying to gain small improvements over their baseline. They work on specific areas where they can improve, with regimens designed to get them there. What’s the spiritual equivalent of that? Are we spiritual couch potatoes or athletes?
Finally, Paul compares the Christian life with being a “hardworking farmer”. A farmer clears land, prepares soil, plants, and cultivates. He calculates and plans his outcome, anticipating the benefits he will reap from his harvest. A farmer invests countless hours in planting, tending, and harvesting his crops, and is rewarded with the fruits of his labor. He has to have patience and faith in order to complete his process. In each of these three examples, the participant is called upon to suffer, to strive, to work; and in each case there is a reward: the commander’s commendation, the victor’s crown, the first fruits.
These labors and these rewards are natural aspects of their respective crafts, but Paul takes it a step further. He says they apply not only to Timothy but to us. When Paul says, “Join with me in suffering”, he is inviting all of us. We are all in the battle. We are all in the race. The fields are white unto harvest. FIGHT. COMPETE. GROW.
Soldiers go through weeks of training; they do not meander.
They work hard to satisfy the demands of their commander.
Athletes work out constantly gain the speed and size
So that in competition they can strive to win the prize.
Farmers work out in the fields with toil, and sweat, and grime
So they can reap the first fruits of their harvest when it’s time.
Why does Paul compare us to the way an athlete strives?
He says it represents the way we live our Christian lives.
We are in the battle and the race, and you should know:
The fields are ready for the harvest. Fight, compete, and GROW.
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