Sermon Titled “Endure Hardship” (2 Timothy 2:3-13) – Sunday 19th October, 2014
CS Lewis once said that hardship often prepares ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny, and almost 2000 years ago, Paul expressed similar sentiments in his second letter to Timothy.
- 2 Timothy 2:3-6 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
Interesting, how Paul uses three distinct metaphors to describe the challenge that Christians face as they attempt to obey Christ in an anti-Christ world. But why three metaphors, and not just one? I think Paul saw unique character traits in each of the three roles represented, and he understood that all three are necessary in the life of a devoted Christian.
1. The Soldier
Despite what you might read on the official US Army website (“The Strength To Live Out Your Dreams,” for example), I think it’s fairly obvious that a soldier’s career isn’t all bells and whistles. There may be some elements of truth in the advertising, but come war-time, a soldier can expect to experience tremendous suffering and sacrifice. Likewise, Paul says that Christians can expect the same too.
In addition, there are other comparisons that can be made between the soldier and the Christian. A soldier, adds Paul, doesn’t engage in civilian affairs (which will only serve to distract him from his duties), nor does he take orders from anyone but his commander. In the same way, the soldier “for Christ” must keep his focus solely on the laws of God’s Word, ultimately resigning himself to a life of biblical submission and obedience.
2. The Athlete
The athlete metaphor resonates more clearly with me. Being an endurance runner, I understand the discipline and sacrifices required if I hope to do well in my races. Morning sleep-ins are replaced with early morning training runs, socializing and late nights are frequently avoided, and foods and beverages that I might otherwise enjoy are often traded for options that will enhance my running performance and recovery.
Paul says that an athlete must follow the rules of his sport if he hopes to win the victor’s crown. What he means is that the race cannot be won without strict adherence to certain disciplinary measures. In other words, the athlete must learn to say “no” to many things if he is serious about winning. Followers of Christ must also learn to say “no” to anything that threatens to impede or reverse their spiritual works and growth. As with anything worth striving for, dedication and discipline is usually required and Christianity is no exception.
3. The Farmer
In the final metaphor, Paul refers to the hardworking farmer. Farmers spend their days laboring away in their fields, working diligently in order to produce a fine harvest. Their hours of hard labor and perseverance are rewarded with the first crops, which they duly deserve. Paul implies that Christians are also called to work hard – to have the diligence of a farmer – accepting however, that their “first crops” may not be received until they enter the eternal realm.
Not very encouraging is it? Why would anyone want to become a Christian if conversion involves suffering, sacrifice, discipline, and hard work? And maybe some blessings along the way, or maybe not?
Paul goes on, in verses 11-13, to offer a few encouraging words for the persevering Christian:
- 11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him he will also disown us 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
These verses are so compelling because they illustrate that we are either with Christ, or against Christ. To deny Christ and live by one’s own rules and standards may seem far more liberating, but a time is coming, says Christ, when all unbelievers will perish. On the other hand, those who are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of following Christ, are saved. Not only are they saved, but they are adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High God, and the implications of that should not be downplayed.
First however, it’s important to understand that the bible does not say that hard work and suffering will earn us blessings or rewards. Nowhere does it say that if we do good, God will bless us. God does not owe us anything, and He never will. What it does say, is that if we are steadfast in our faith, believing wholeheartedly that Jesus Christ died for us and choosing therefore to live by His commands, then we are lovingly invited to live and reign with Him.
Did you catch that? Not just live with Him, but reign with Him. That is a remarkable concept, and one which should provide great consolation during times when being a Christian feels oppressive or confining. We obviously can’t avoid hardships, but we can take comfort in the knowledge that our disciplined lifestyles (marked by Christian acts of faith and obedience) set us apart as children of God. And as children of God, we get to inherit all of the good things that our Heavenly Father desires to share with us!
Those things include first and foremost eternal life with the Father of all Creation, and second, residence in a kingdom so perfect that it’s difficult to imagine. No darkness, no tears, no sounds of crying – ever again (Revelations 21:4).
To live eternally in such a place is truly extraordinary, and entirely possible. All that’s required is a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and a willing heart to follow Him.
- “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1)