This second and final letter to Timothy from his mentor, Paul, is an exhortation and encouragement to continue in all that Christ has imparted to Timothy through Paul’s ministry. Paul is close to death—this likely being his last letter written—and he is passing the proverbial torch from his failing hands. Paul encourages Timothy to entrust the sound doctrine and godly lifestyle to still others who will take up that torch. Paul’s main point can be summarized here: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (1:8). “Join me in suffering.” Paul has set an example, a precedent to be followed. This is discipleship. “For the gospel.” The mission of bringing the message of true life in Christ to all people should be the point of everything. We are stewards of the message of life. “According to the power of God.” God has given the Holy Spirit to help Timothy—and all ministers of Christ—carry out this mission. He should be the source of our influence. This letter is a reminder of the mission and the means to carry it out amidst likely increasing opposition both within and outside the Church. All of this is a work of service from selfless faith.
The Power of God
This key verse starts with the word “therefore.” One must ask the question, “what is it there for?” (Pun intended). The previous verse describes in three points how the mission will be accomplished: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (1:7). Paul strove by the power of the Holy Spirit, displaying these in his own life, and now he is encouraging Timothy in like manner to display this to others. 2 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul was encouraging Timothy to remember all that he learned from Paul and to pass it on. All Christians are called to do this by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Paul is describing normal Christian life. Paul gives three examples to sum up what he has taught Timothy (the Gospel). These also describe a faithful man of God.
A Three-Point Gospel: Soldier, Athlete, Farmer
“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:3-6).
Soldier, athlete, and farmer are three metaphors which give a full picture of the Gospel message entrusted to Timothy. The first two are linked together with the “and” at the beginning of verse 5. The second builds on the first in some way. That also makes the third (farmer) distinct from the other two. Really, these three all build on each other. The first two describe a faithful man of God. The Farmer is someone else—for whom they are working or competing. Who is the farmer and what are the crops?
2 Timothy 2:7-10. Remember Christ raised from the dead—the gospel for which Paul is imprisoned. Paul was enduring hardship like a soldier, that others would receive the gospel—the word of God which is not imprisoned. God’s Word is Christ raised. We cannot imprison that!
Paul then reminds Timothy of a faithful saying, “For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
These three verses parallel the soldier, athlete, farmer metaphor, as the points build on each other in like manner. Like a soldier, Timothy is to be no longer entangled in affairs of life. We have died to a former life. The promise is that we will live with Him. We now partake in the resurrected life of Christ. In that life, there are certain rules to follow as we endure like a highly trained athlete. The promise is that we will be crowned, reigning with the Lord. Christ is faithful, like the hardworking farmer. The “crop” He is cultivating in us is His life by FAITH. We have to keep the faith.
Again, Paul is reminding Timothy to live out what he learned from Paul by example. Paul sums up his exhortation and encouragement to Timothy in chapter 4:7,” I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul himself was a good soldier, a diligent athlete, and a bearer of good crop—faith—unto the Lord. In a statement, this is Paul’s message: Die to the former life, submitting to the new, with selfless faith. This honors the Lord, striving by His Spirit in three things: power (to die to former life); love (evidence of submission to new); and discipline (the Lord cultivating faith in me).
In terms of ministry leadership, it would be prudent to ask some hard questions at this juncture. Is the fruit of Faith seen in my everyday life? At home? At Work? The future seems uncertain, but we can be certain of the One who has given us His life. Let us not try to preserve our own lives the way we see fit. We will experience hardship and suffering as we follow the Lord. Some people may not want to associate with us. Do we try to find “life” in relationships with other people? The Lord’s sacrifice once for all made it so we can be free from fear and participate in a new type of life. That takes endurance. We can thank the Lord through our suffering. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” This helps us love those who hate us.
Am I concerned about earthly success? Where do I find my significance? I need to be disciplined to look for the spiritual implications in everything and to look to the Lord for providence and provision, realizing His presence in my life. Looking at Psalm 127, written by Solomon—the wisest man on earth—it can be observed that all human effort is vain apart from cooperating with God’s work. Earthly ideas of success can permeate our lives and quench our faith. “God gives to his beloved even in his sleep”—that is, the rest which is a life lived by faith. So the “fruit of the womb is a reward” means that which our faith begets. Are we caught up in God’s work of building people up so they will be prepared to meet God? If we live our lives as a soldier and an athlete to please the Farmer, this is what we will see ourselves doing, the ultimate end of biblical Christian service.
I am realizing I tend to be selfish with how I use my time. My personal reflection on Psalm 127 is that I should not be confusing productivity for fruitfulness. I do not always ask the Lord what it is I should be focusing on for any given day. He will certainly show me if I have ears to hear. Just yesterday, I wanted to get a lot of specific work done, but I ended up spending a lot of time in conversation with needy people--quality time!
Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, that we would walk in them. In other words, God has specific work for us as we share in Christ’s resurrected life. We have to adopt a mindset of service in which we are always ready to follow the Spirit of Christ, the ultimate servant. The specific activity may be different day-to-day and moment-by-moment as we follow HIS lead. That is a work of selfless faith which will be truly fruitful.
This is the blog of Tyler Shepard, the Associate Pastor for Centre Union Church in Yeagertown, PA.
I hope you are encouraged and challenged to walk more closely with Jesus Christ!