Keep on Being Strong in the Grace – Part Two
(2 Timothy 2:5-7)
The Discipline of an Athlete
Metaphors from athletics is another of Paul’s favorite means of illustrating the Christian life. He may have even witnessed the Olympic or Isthmian games in person. “Paul would not have been content with the slogan: ‘It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.’ Paul probably would have revised the slogan to say: ‘Whether you win or lose depends totally on how you play the game!’” (Life Application Bible Commentary 180). In the Greek games, the athletes had to be a Greek citizen and to swear on oath to Zeus that they had completed a full ten months of rigorous training before they were allowed to compete in the race. “During this time he had to engage in the prescribed exercises and live a strictly separated life in regard to the ordinary and lawful pursuits of life, and he was placed on a rigid diet. Should he break training rules, he would..be a castaway…disqualified,’ barred from engaging in the athletic contest” (Kenneth Wuest, the Pastoral Epistles, “Word Studies in the Greek New Testament,” Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Col, 1953), p. 129f). Jim Thorpe was one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century, but was stripped of his gold medals for breaking the rules.
Timothy had to be a citizen of God’s kingdom and was trained by the years he spent working with and for the apostle Paul. As a good athlete he could not break the rules of training or of the game. Not only was an undisciplined athlete disqualified but could be fined or even scourged. No short cuts in the pursuit of the victory. The film Chariots of Fire is the story of an athlete who wants to win, but he wants to win with honor, and he is ready to deny himself the joy of winning if he has to win without honor.
Every athlete learns that he has to deny himself certain things if he wants to win. He cannot eat just any kind of food; he has to give up chocolate sundaes, strawberry shortcake, and all the rich, luxurious indulgences that others can freely have. He does not go out for late nights, engage in wild living, revelings, carousings and drunkenness as others may indulge. A Christian is called to say “No” to many things today. Saying “yes” to the race means saying “no” to the lust of the flesh and personal goals.
Think of the ancient athlete as he trains for ten months only to receive a laurel crown that will wither away in less than ten days. He knows that he may only achieve victory by a fraction of a second. A swimmer won by a fraction of a second because she learned to keep her fingers spread slightly apart while swimming. An athlete who is not disciplined enough to meet the requirements will never win. Timothy is to be rewarded with the crown of life, if he disciplines himself according to the rules.
The Industry of a Farmer
“Hard-working” is from a Greek verb that means “to labor to the point of exhaustion.” Farming was hard, back-breaking manual labor. It is so hard for many Americans to do this work that most of it is performed by immigrant workers from third world countries. Still the ground is hard and the soil stubborn. Sowing the seed of the Word of God is hard enough but then we have to labor hard to keep the harvest from spoiling and returning to a world of sin. All who have labored consistently in the fields of sin to bring them in know the frustration of seeing months of hard work waste before their eyes.
Timothy’s attitude needed to be like that of a farmer: patiently waiting for hard work to produce a crop. Patience is a natural requirement of those who chose a life of agriculture. A farmer knows that he cannot just drop the seed in the ground one day and go out the next morning and harvest the crop. It takes weeks and months or most of the year for the crops to reach maturity. He can do very little to speed the process along. He cannot stand around all day and watch it grow because there is a lot of weeding, watering, killing of insects, etc. to be done
Timothy’s motivation for his hard-work and patience was to “be first to partake of the crops.” Although Christians await the final harvest of the world to receive the ultimate reward of their hard work, there are blessings that come with toiling. Timothy may receive the harvest of financial support. All this is unlikely Paul’s point because even Paul did not plant the Word and then await support. Paul’s point here may have application to future reward as well as to possible financial remuneration for the ministry by Timothy . Perhaps, the harvest is the empowerment received by Timothy. After all, those who teach others are greatly rewarded by their efforts. However, in that case the harvest is most often realized before the sowing of the seed in the hearts of men. Most likely, the harvest is the reward of lost souls obeying the Gospel or the growth of the saints.
The Comprehension of a Student
In every case, reward comes after effort. The teacher must be taught to teach and witness the development of the next generation of teachers. The soldier must endure hardship before he enjoys the victory. The athlete must strive according to the rules before wearing the crown. The harvest comes only after the laboring in the fields. And the understanding all things only comes by way of the student, Timothy, carefully and fully considering what has taught by Paul. Full comprehension comes only after giving full attention. To keep on being strengthened he must read, meditate, and apply God’s Word.
Paul asked Timothy to meditate on these common illustrations for success. Asking yourself: Do I seek the easy way or do I endure hardship as a good soldier? Do I look for a comfortable assignment or do I work to please the Lord? Do I long for a position far from the front lines or am I leading the charge? Am I on active duty or in training or have I gone AWOL? Do I have what it takes to train hard and bring home the gold or do I look for short cuts to heaven? Do I want to enjoy the harvest without helping to plant the seed and harvest the crops? Will I be a successful Christian?
– Daniel R. Vess
Patiently Waiting on the Lord’s Return, James 5:7-12
James gives the saints several things to consider while they are patiently waiting on the Lord’s return. They should recognize the Lord’s Coming is definitely coming. “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:7-8). They must rely on the Lord’s judgment. “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (5:9).
They should reflect on the Lord’s servants the prophets who are an example. “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience” (5:10). While awaiting His return they should regard the Lord’s blessings. “Indeed we count them blessed who endure” (5:11a). Patient Christians must realize the Lord’s purpose. “You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord” (5:11b). They are to reckon the Lord’s character. “That the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (5:11c). The Lord will come, but until then they are to respect the Lord’s name and not use it in careless making of vows. “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes,’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment” (5:12).
– Daniel R. Vess