A picture is worth a thousand words is certainly a true statement. The right picture can go a long way in selling a product. It can make an article more compelling. And a good illustration in a sermon can drive home a point better than a well-reasoned argument.
As we move to 2 Timothy 2:1-7 Paul draws four pictures of what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. He shows us the kind of person it will take to leave a godly legacy. However, before we get to the illustrations let’s look at the first verse.
Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus.
Paul will give us some great pictures or similes of what it means to follow Christ faithfully, but it is important we view these pictures in the right context. He exhorts us to be strong through the grace God gives us through Christ. Paul is not calling us to muster our strength to be better and more acceptable to the Lord. He is telling us to allow God’s grace to make a difference in our life. Grace saves us and sets us free from the weak and troubled lives we tend to live. Paul urges us to live in God’s strength. The pictures we are going to look at must be tethered to His grace. These things become part of our legacy only through His work in and through us.
2 You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.
The Apostle Paul was aware that the first generation of believers was dying out. The founding twelve Disciples (and Paul) were giving their lives for the message of the gospel. Persecution was intense. The message of the gospel was now being placed in the hands of the next generation. Paul wanted Timothy to know that it was now his job to pass these truths down to the next generation.
Someone has rightly said, Christianity is one generation away from extinction. All it would take is for one generation to cease sharing the gospel and the faith would die.
Notice what is to be taught. Timothy is to teach the truths that have been confirmed. In other words, Timothy’s job is not to be innovative, his job is to be faithful. We can and should teach the foundational truth of the gospel in as many creative ways as possible, however, we must make sure what we are teaching is the “true truth” rather than a message that is more socially acceptable. How do we make sure we are teaching the “True Truth”?
- Let the Bible Speak for Itself.
- Make sure the focus is on the Word of God and not the creativity of men. In other words we need to always ask: Is this what the Bible says, or is it what someone says or thinks it says?
- Be suspicious of anything that presents itself as “new understandings” of the Word. When we come up with new understandings of what the text means we often are saying we have figured out what the apostles and saints of old did not see. That is arrogance! Biblical principles will always be APPLIED in new ways in each new generation. The truth does not change even though the application may constantly be changing.
Second, notice who we are to teach. We are to look for trustworthy people. These are people who will hear the truth, study the truth, apply the truth to their own live, and then pass that truth on to others. I have found that if you teach the truth all the time the more “trustworthy” people are going to make themselves known to you. Those people deserve extra attention.
This teaching is not reserved for Pastors and Sunday School teachers. We must all teach the truth to our children and any the Lord brings to our path. Who is it in your life that will be a trustworthy follower of Christ? What are you doing to make sure that person is well grounded in the TRUTH of Scripture?
3 Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.
Paul tells us to take a “soldier like” mentality to our discipleship. There are two aspects of a soldier’s life Paul thinks we should apply. First, we should be willing to endure suffering.
Nik Ripkin (a pseudonym) has written two compelling books: The Insanity of God and The Insanity of Obedience. Ripken quotes Paul Marshall who says, “80 percent of the world’s believers who are practicing their faith live in persecution.” (Obedience p. 21) Marshall defines a person who practices their faith as one who is living for Christ and is boldly telling others about Jesus.
The idea is that Satan’s goal is to get believers to stop testifying of Jesus. He will either encourage us to find excuses to keep silent about our faith or He will make us pay (via persecution) if we do share our faith. Rather than pray for God to remove persecution we should be praying to God to make us faithful IN persecution.
Think about it. A soldier is ready to endure to defeat the enemy. The soldiers in WW II had to endure bitter cold and sometimes enormous odds. Think about the invasion of Normandy . . . the soldiers knew that a large percentage of them were going to die yet they went forward heroically. Those in Viet Nam had to deal with swamps, jungles, and unseen opponents. Those in Iraq had to endure the great heat. The point is that a soldier understands that going into battle – doing their job – brings with it danger. Every soldier knows they could lose their life. However, they endure because they know what they are fighting for.
The point is that we should be willing to follow Christ wherever the path takes us. We should be diligent to share the gospel message whether or not it is popular. We surrendered to Christ because we believed He is the Savior worth following. He is the only One who can rescue sinful man. Because of that, we must tell them the truth whatever the cost.
Second, a soldier is not a soldier part time. Even when they are on leave, soldiers still act like soldiers because they don’t stop being soldiers just because they leave the base. You are a soldier 24 hours a day. You represent your country wherever you wear that uniform.
Paul warns Timothy to be wholehearted in his service to the Lord. He warns him not to get distracted by civilian affairs. Paul reminds us that we cannot please our commanding officer if we are distracted. We represent Christ in the choices we make.
If we are going to serve the Lord full time we need to be very careful about our outside pursuits. It is easy to get pulled away by other interests. It can be a hobby, a job, a political contest, a sporting event, a policy issue, a controversy of any sort. We all know how easy it is to become almost obsessed with such things. When that happens we forget who we are: Soldiers in God’s army. Satan has set out to distract us and to silence us. He will use good things to pull us away from our mission before Christ. EVERYTHING we do reflects on the gospel. How we respond to the irritants and pressures of life will impact how people view our Lord, our Church, and us.
One commentator writes,
Paul’s appeal shows the importance of developing an ability to distinguish between doing good things and doing the best things. Servants of Christ are not merely to be well-rounded dabblers in all types of trivial pursuits. They are tough-minded devotees of Christ who constantly choose the right priorities from a list of potential selections.
Perhaps the problem is that we don’t see the supreme importance of the message of the gospel. Nothing is more important than our relationship with the Lord! It is the only thing that lasts in life.
5 And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules.
There has been a great deal of controversy lately over whether or not people who were implicated in taking steroids should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. These people (very famous names) have been denied entry into the Hall because they did not follow the rules.
One author writes, “Paul would not have been content with the slogan: “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Based on his words to Timothy, Paul probably would have revised the slogan to say: “Whether you win or lose depends totally on how you play the game!””
Christians are to be like athletes in two ways. First, we are to live by the rules. We should not be those who proclaim Christ but live like the Devil! We should be seeking to honor and glorify the Lord in all we do. We should pursue holiness.
The Bible tells us that we should pursue godliness and dignity (1 Tim. 2:2). We should strive to “leave no debt outstanding except the debt of love” (Romans 13:8). We should work hard to be “kind, tender-hearted and forgiving, just as God in Christ forgave us.” (Eph. 4:32) We should work hard to control our tongue (James 3:2). These are all commands on how to pursue the life God wants us to live.
1 Timothy 4:7-8 says
7 Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. 8 “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
Second, we are told that we are to “train ourselves to be godly”. This won’t happen overnight. Like an infielder who fields ground ball after ground ball, or the sprinter who keeps working to shave a tenth of a second off his time, we must practice godliness. How do we do this?
- Learn to ask yourself, “What would God want me to do in this situation?” Listen carefully because the voice we often respond to is our own justification for doing what we want, rather than the voice of the Lord.
- Look in the Bible for counsel. Better yet, memorize the Bible so His truth is at your disposal anytime you need it. If you read regularly you will get a much clearer picture of what wisdom looks like.
- Ask, “What will people think about Jesus if I do what I am thinking about doing?”
The only athletes that win the prize are those who train with diligence and single-mindedness. Olympic Athletes train many hours every day. They give up many of the things their friends are doing. They are different from others in the fact that they are focused. This is the way God tells Timothy (and us) to be.
6 And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor.
I’ve learned a few things about farmers since I move to La Harpe. First, I have learned that the job never ends. There is always something that needs to be done on the farm.
Second, farmers must be patient. They plant and then they wait. They watch (and complain about) the weather. They may want to plant early but must wait until they are sure the seed can take root and survive. They may want to harvest at a certain time but they must wait until the crop is dry and ready to be harvested. There is no hurrying when it comes to farming.
Third, farmers must work when they have the opportunity. We have had many years where we have had a lot of rain. In those years the farmers have to work when the sun dries the ground . . . no matter what else is going on. They must put in (and take out) the crop as they have the opportunity. When things happen (disease, flooding, etc.) they must adjust.
This parallels the life of the Christian. You are never done growing in Christ. You are never finished pursuing holiness. You have never completed the task of sharing your faith with others. These jobs are never ending. We must serve the Lord with the farmer’s endurance.
Likewise, we must be patient. As Christians we plant seeds. When we share the gospel with someone, we plant a seed. When we show the love of Christ in our actions, we plant a seed. When we choose to be kind when we could be abusive, we plant a seed. When we choose to be reconciled rather than “win”, we plant a seed. When we choose the way of God over the way of the world or even the way of greatest profitability, we plant seeds.
Once we plant the seeds we must wait for the Holy Spirit to do His work. We continue to water, we continue to weed, but we ultimately must wait on the work of God’s Spirit. We may not like that fact but it IS the job.
Third, the believer who leaves a legacy is the one who is always ready to do what needs to be done when the opportunity presents itself. You are always ready to share the good news, to love someone, or to rally to the side of a person in crisis. We likewise must always be ready to adjust.
The good news is that the farmer who is diligent will reap a bountiful harvest (most of the time). It must be wonderfully satisfying to drive the combine and see the harvest that is the result of a good season of diligent and faithful work.
As followers of Christ we too are working for a harvest. This harvest may show itself in little ways in this world (it is a wonderful privilege to be part of seeing an unbeliever move from spiritual lost-ness to new life! Or seeing people reconciled to the Lord as well as to each other.) However, the greatest harvest will be when we stand before the Lord of Life, the Savior of our souls. To have this One who we have loved so dearly look us in the eye and say “Well Done, my good and faithful servant! “ Could anything be better than that moment? We are not working for earthly reward. We are working for the “Well Done” of our King, Savior, and Master.
If you are like me, you want to “flesh things out”; you want to have a picture of where you are headed and how you are going to get there. This is what Paul has given us today. He has told us to endure suffering and stand firmly on the truth. Today he has told us what that looks like.
- We are to be faithful teachers who work hard to train people to fight the battle when we can no longer do so.
- We are to be like soldiers who give up worldly security and comfort and endure rigorous discipline.
- We are to be like Athletes who train hard and follow the rules.
- We are to be like farmers who work hard and wait with patience.
We do all this because the thought of victory and the hope of a harvest is better than anything our minds can imagine. It is because of this hope and the strength that God provides that we are able to endure whatever comes our way. This should be the legacy we want to leave.
Paul finishes with these words:
7 Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.
It is good advice. We need to ponder and reflect. We need to measure our lives by these illustrations. And as we do so there will be things we need to change. There will be things to build upon. It is up to us to make the sometimes-difficult adjustments. We are given a picture of what God wants us to be. This is a picture that should spur us on for the rest of our lives.
Our world needs to see Christians who live this way. They need to see us as focused, disciplined and un-intimidated by the distractions of the world that are thrown at us by Satan. The world needs to see this because if they do, they too may be drawn to the only one who can save them: the Savior who can set them free and make them new.
 Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 203.
 Bruce B. Barton, David Veerman, and Neil S. Wilson, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993), 180.