Doesn’t the title mess you up a little? In 2 Timothy 2, that exactly what Paul extends to Timothy.
A couple posts back I mentioned the reason and motivation for our behavior as Christians: because of the promise of life. Here, at the beginning of the next chapter, Paul encourages Timothy with a greater invitation to do something all of us are afraid of happening to us.
Suffering isn’t our idea of a “good time” in following Christ. But when there is nothing else in our life that we’ve allowed to compete with Jesus, suffering is inevitable. Suffering is the test of the depth of our commitment to God. A good soldier suffers.
This past weekend, I talked with some of those in our Worship Department who serve in the military. Paul used an analogy of a soldier in active service to being a Christian. I asked them about active service and what that looks like. They replied, “You’re constantly training to be a better soldier. And it basically means that you’re ‘on call’ all the time. Whenever something needs to be done, you do it. And in the military, it doesn’t matter what kind of situation you’re in; married, about to have your first child, on vacation, or anything. If they call, you go.”
That’s quite the metaphor! No wonder Paul used it. To be a good soldier means training, not getting involved in civilian affairs, and being ready to whatever is demanded of you by your commanding officer. As a Christian, the same things apply: training, not getting involved in worldly affairs, and being ready to respond to the call of the Master at any moment.
Paul used another metaphor about an athlete. Everyone hates a cheater and they don’t get invited back to the game if they cheat. Seriously, how many of us were distraught to find out that those sluggers in baseball who set all kinds of home run records were using illegal stimulants to get them that good? Did they ever get hired to play on another team after being fired by the one they cheated on? The integrity of the athlete is extremely important. If they break the rules, they’re fired or fined tremendously.
We’re all in the “competition” of life. But God created the universe so the rules are what He’s set in place. If we want to win the prize God has for us, we play according to the rules. Now, the competition is simply an analogy. The rules are simple: Love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we follow those two things, the prize is eternal life with God in heaven. But you are the one who will decide how that looks like in your life. God spells out what He’s looking for in the Bible, and training comes when we look into it for guidance.
Sometimes it’s really hard to train. To get good at something takes a lot of work, hard work that later won’t be regretted. Suffering is necessary in training. And sometimes suffering comes during the “soldiering” and “competition.” But when our sights are set on Christ and the motivation of the promise of life, suffering isn’t suffering at all. As a matter of fact, we could go so far as to say that our commitment to Him changes the suffering to joy.
The soldier I was talking with said something like this: “When you’re in it, you’re in it. There isn’t anything else because there can’t be. You’re also doing what you love doing, and being a soldier isn’t as much work as it is a joy when it’s what you love doing.” Maybe our attitude should be just like that. Maybe we should love Jesus like He’s what we love “doing.” Maybe our relationship with Him is what we should love the most. That changes the work that it can sometimes become at building our relationship with Him into the joy He longs for us to experience.