3 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
As Paul closes out his thoughts, he gives Timothy what seems to be a few “one liners” to remember. We encountered this in his previous letter to Timothy. He was just instructing Timothy to be steadfast, and now he is talking about soldiers, athletes, and farmers. So what qualities is Paul reminding Timothy of?
Be totally committed to the calling God has placed on your life.
Maybe you don’t quite know what that is yet. That’s ok. If it isn’t evident to you wherever you are in life, don’t stop striving to know what it is. I say this knowing my own struggles in life, trying to figure out where I fit. I strived for years trying to learn what I was put on this earth for and part of the struggle was also part of my purpose. Even though I didn’t quite know what I was looking for, I knew for certain once I found it. Some call this an epiphany, some call it a revelation, but whatever you call it, don’t stop seeking out your purpose in life. Sometimes it is the search or the struggle that is the point. Once God reveals to you, however, what it is He designed you for and what He saved you to do, it is foolish to look elsewhere. When you find yourself right in the middle of the will of God, you cannot be happier. As your heart aligns with His will, you will realize not only that you were made for a purpose, but this purpose. Everything outside of that is just background noise.
Paul talks about following the rules as an athlete. If you are throwing a javelin and you step over the line before you throw, your throw doesn’t count even if it breaks the world record. If you are running a race, you have to run in a certain direction even if you are the fastest runner there. If you are competing in the high jump and you hit the bar in the air, you are disqualified and it doesn’t matter how high you got. Paul described earlier that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of discipline (among other things). Personally, I’ve struggled with the thought of rules in the Christian life. We look at the Ten Commandments and under the law of grace, we assume that we no longer have to abide by these rules (in an eternal sense) in order to earn our way into a relationship with God. Yet as we look at them, they seem like pretty decent rules: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t lie, respect your parents, etc. Then we have the unspoken things like go to Ninevah and follow me. What do we do with those? What I have learned so far throughout the bible, however, is that God’s directives and instruction don’t come from an authoritative standpoint. He isn’t trying to make us do what He wants so He can feel all powerful. He can wipe it all out with a single thought. It goes back to what I was saying the other day about loving parental instruction. He knows what is going to happen if we do or do not do something. Your parents know what can happen if you cross the street without looking for cars first. They don’t tell you to look because they want a kid who is good at listening to orders, but because they love you and don’t want to see you suffer the consequences.
Give credit where credit is due.
The farmer example through me off. In our society of entitlement, it is too easy to look at this and think, “yeah, I need to get mine first!” What this refers to, rather, is the exact opposite, “he gets his first.” Agriculture seems to be a dying profession in America, even though we still need it because we are such huge consumers. Although a farmer is producing food for others (people, livestock, and maybe even for products that aren’t food), he still needs to provide for his family. In Matthew Jesus tells us that a worker is worth his wages. Here, Paul is reminding us that we need to keep that in mind. It is our selfish nature that encourages us to just take without asking. This can be used in a variety of situations: products, esteem, credit for a job well done, even time. Think about a man coming home from work. Suddenly the family rushes him at the door. The kids want to play, the wife wants to share about her day, even the dog wants to play ball, and the man just wants five minutes of isolation. Each person has probably earned their right to those things, but rarely do we stop to let someone else go first. The kid shoves his school project in dad’s face, the man runs away to the bedroom, the wife starts unloading her thoughts and emotions, and the dog won’t stop licking everyone and wagging his tail. Paul is waking us up to this reality: don’t be greedy and selfish.
Seek God’s wisdom.
James, the brother of Jesus said, “5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously andwithout reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” Too often we try to do things on our own. Even with the best of intentions, we tend to tune God out unless we really feel we need Him. How foolish is that? I mean, this is the God of the universe. He created the heavens and the earth by speaking it into existence, yet we ignore Him. He tells us that He will give us His wisdom in everything, but we go on preferring to do it our way like a rebellious teenager. The things we cannot grasp can be grasped if we ask God to reveal them to us.
How can you apply this instruction to your life today? Where are you lacking in your relationship with God? Do you seek His wisdom? Are you obedient? Are you wholeheartedly chasing after Him? Are you being selfish? These are all elements that are important to pay attention to as we seek a closer relationship with Him because they affect it.