Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs,
but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.
The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
This passage is part of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to his beloved assistant, Timothy. At this time in Paul's life, he knew he was coming to the end of his mission. He desperately wanted to encourage Timothy to continue with the work he, Paul, had begun.
He was suffering from his second imprisonment, by the wicked Emperor Nero, and was languishing in a cold dungeon, and chained to the wall like a common criminal. His whereabouts were hidden, and it was not definitely known where he was being held. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, first, because he was lonely and missed the young man, who had become like a son to him. But more importantly, he wanted Timothy to guard the Gospel; to never give up in preaching it; and to do his part in spreading it throughout the world, even if that meant suffering for it.
And, so, Paul gives Timothy these three examples to follow: a soldier that wishes to please his commander; an athlete who follows the rules of the game; and a farmer who works hard to complete his task. And we would do well to follow these same examples in serving our Lord.
A soldier diligently trains for his mission to protect his country. He cannot be distracted by who won American Idol, or the latest video game. He is centered on the orders he has received from his commanding officer. And, likewise, we, as Christians, should not be preoccupied with worldly pursuits either. We have our "marching orders" from our Commander, Jesus Christ. We are to be conscientious in our training: reading Scripture, seeking God's will in the world, and telling others the Good News.
An athlete doesn't win by cheating. He follows the rules, and through continued hard work and practice, gains the victory. That takes training! For the Christian this means learning to live our lives differently; to display the Truth of the Lord within us. We are not deceptive or "hypocritical" about what Jesus has done for us. There is no shortcut to gaining our victory in Christ. It takes dedication and discipline to live out our lives according to the guidelines Christ left us. It's not easy to live by His holy rules. But how sweet the victory when we persevere!
And the last example Paul gives Timothy is that of the farmer. Paul is telling us that if we remain focused on Christ and steadfast in our faith; unwavering in our commitment and work to spread the Gospel, we can expect to receive something from the harvest, just as a farmer receives a share of all that he has nurtured and planted. But you have to do the work! No farmer ever yielded a good harvest by being negligent in tending and cultivating his crop. We will see our return in saved souls and our own eternal life!
And lastly, Paul exhorts Timothy to reflect on all these examples.... to look for the deeper meaning in the goal and the merit of each of these examples. If we will study our Scripture and pray for guidance and knowledge, God will reveal His purpose and plan for each of us. Just ask Him!