Good morning my friends. I pray you are waking up to a wonderfully blessed day. Actually, every day we wake up is already a day of blessing, but we don't always feel that way. There are days that we would rather not face and sometimes we may feel like Elijah, thinking that we are alone in the hardships we are facing. When we start heading in that direction we are heading into the self-pity territory. If we are honest with ourselves I think we would all admit that we have gone there on more than one occasion, even if we didn't verbalize it to anyone. However, none of us can afford to be found in the territory of self pity because it is unproductive and not helpful at all in our tasks and purpose. Hard work and hardships are simply part of the calling we received when we decided to follow Jesus. Paul encouraged Timothy with some difficult words:
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:3)
Have you ever served in the military? I did for a few years in the Canadian militia. I was actually a musician but even as a musician I had to go through basic training and keep my skills up by participating in various training on top of my band duties. That was hard work as a young adult. There were some aspects of the training where I thought I was going to die; where I actually wished to die. Regardless, at the end of the day I was a soldier and I understood that hardships and difficult situations were part of my duties. It was no less so in Paul's day and he knew exactly what imagery he was provoking when he referred to Timothy as a good soldier, telling him to endure hardship. I don't know why we who follow Jesus expect easy street and are disappointed when we don't find it. Jesus was clear, as were the writers of the New Testament, that hardship would be a way of life for us. If we are not willing to face it as good soldiers we will not increase in maturity and the gospel will not advance. I find that is where much of the Church is right now.
The mention of the soldier is not the only imagery Paul used with Timothy. He used two others and told Timothy to reflect on it and he would come to understand more fully what Paul was saying. To the imagery of the soldier he added:
No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. (v.4)
Using the example of the soldier Paul was warning Timothy not to get caught up in the affairs of this world. Do you notice there is no political reference in the New Testament. There is also no specific social cause except for widows and orphans. There is also nothing mentioned about entertainment, even though Rome was highly involved in entertaining her citizens and thus the known world in order to control the masses. We spend far too much time invested in civilian affairs and it is distracting us from our duties and calling. The gospel is not advancing as it should and we are not maturing as we should. When given the choice between being entertained and enduring hardship we choose being entertained. It is the weakness of our society. Paul then writes:
Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. (v. 5)
As soon as we mention rules the law comes to mind. However, we are governed by something greater than the law; we are governed by love. Love provokes in us a certain mentality, perspective and actions. This love has changed the pattern by which we are governed. It allows for the fruit of the Spirit to be produced in us by the Spirit. It is only by being governed by the rules of love that we are able to compete for the prize. Of course we are not capable of producing this love ourselves because it is beyond our fallen state. It is only as we daily surrender to Jesus that the Spirit is able to produce this love in us. Like most things it is an act of the will, as is in training and competition of an athlete.
The last imagery Paul uses is that of a farmer:
The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. v. 6
Who does not understand the imagery of a hardworking farmer? Anyone who has ever driven through farm country in the Spring and the Fall can understand this as you have seen the farmer out in the huge machines at 11 pm or see them out working their animals at 4 am. It is not a life many of us could endure, facing the many hardships that they face. Paul says that these workers should be the first to have a share in the crop. That only makes sense but how does it relate to our calling? Some see it as a financial thing. I would not disagree but I would also not leave it limited to such a base thought. There is much more involved with the fruits of our spiritual labour. I know that I receive much more from preparing to share the Word than what people receive from me. I know what a sense of completeness I feel when love costs me something. I know what a rich fellowship I feel with Jesus any time I have to endure hardship for his name. The benefits I receive as a good soldier of Jesus is tremendous; it is my share of the harvest. There is much more to it but this is a poke in the right direction when reflecting on this.
All three of these images that Paul provokes involve enduring hardship with a purpose. The soldier gives up his life as a citizen and endures hardship in order to serve his commander. The athlete gives up a normal life and enters a life of disciplined hardship in order to win the prize. The farmer also gives up a normal life style and endures great hardship in order to produce a crop. We have been called to separate ourselves from the desires of this world, to endure whatever hardships we need to face in obedience to Jesus so that we can finish this race we have entered. This is our calling, the cross we have been told to take up. It is for this reason we cannot afford the territory of the self pity; it doesn't belong to good soldiers.