Paul used three earthly professions to illustrate the way a Christian should live. Let’s notice –
1. The Good Soldier
“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).
Christians are frequently described in military terms (e.g. Ephesians 6:10-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; 1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3-4; 4:7). We are in a war for the cause of Christ. We are in a war for our souls and the souls of others.
Commitment is needed. Soldiers at war face many hardships. Even so, the Christian needs to be willing to endure hardship. Paul wrote, “I suffer trouble (hardship – B.H.)… I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9-10). Then, he encouraged and warned, “If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
“No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4).
A good soldier knows that he cannot become so entangled in the things of this life that he neglects his orders. Neither, should the Christian. Commitment is needed.
This does not forbid secular work. Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-3). He worked with his hands (Acts 20:34-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8). Paul’s work was done – not only to support himself – but also to help spread the gospel. He was not confused about whom he served (2 Timothy 2:4 cf. 2:15; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
2. The Crowned Athlete
“If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).
Christians are frequently described in athletic terms [1. Archery (2 Corinthians 5:9); 2. Wrestling (Ephesians 6:12; Jude 3); 3. Boxing (1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Timothy 4:7); 4. Running (Galatians 5:7; Philippians 3:13-14; 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1)]. We are not mere spectators or armchair quarterbacks. We are in the race. We are running for an eternal crown. The race lasts a lifetime. It should be ran with endurance (Hebrews 12:1).
Caution is needed. The prize is for those who compete according to the rules. There have been athletes disqualified and stripped of their medals because of rule violations (e.g. Jim Thorp; Ben Johnson; Marion Jones; Lance Armstrong). Even so, Christians can be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul told Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). The Psalmist said, “I will run the course of Your commandments” (Psalm 119:32).
3. The Hardworking Farmer
“The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6).
Agricultural illustrations abound in the scriptures. Jesus frequently used such (e.g. Luke 8:4-8; 15:4-8, etc.). Christians are sometimes taught by the epistles in agricultural terms (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:8-9; 2 Corinthians 6:14-16; Galatians 6:8-9; Philippians 4:3; Colossians 1:10; Titus 3:14; James 3:3; 3:12; 5:7; 2 Peter 1:8). We are to be producing fruit unto God.
The consequence of labor is in view. There are some who believe that the term “first” goes with the farmer’s work and not with the term “partake” (Albert Barns, Adam Clark). Adam Clark commented, “The husbandman must first till the ground before he can expect a crop.” This of course is true. However, the most natural reading is to understand “first” as modifying “partake.” The farmer reaps the benefits of his labor in the harvest. Even so, an enjoyable harvest is coming for the Christian. Our labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:8-9; Hebrews 6:10). Note: The term “fruits” sometimes is used of converts (Romans 1:13; 1 Corinthians 1:16 cf. 16:15). Imagine the joy that the soul-winner will have in the harvest (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Farmers must wait for harvest. It does not come immediately. James wrote, “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” (James 5:7). A crop sowed in the fall would not be ready for harvest until it had seen the early rains (October – November) and the latter rains (March – April). Harvest would come on God’s timetable (cf. Deuteronomy 11:14). Even so, our reward will not likely come immediately. We need patience.
Paul nearing death wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness…” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Let me suggest that the language takes one back to these three illustrations. (1) “I have fought the good fight” has to do with fulfilling one’s duties as a good soldier. (2)”I have finished the race” has to do with the completion of an athletic event (according to the rules). (3) “I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness” is a reference to the harvest. Paul would reap benefits from his labor. So can we. He went on to say of the benefits “…and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”