Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things. – 2 Timothy 2:3-7 NLT
Endure suffering. Don’t get distracted. Follow the rules. Work hard. Think.
Paul was trying to keep Timothy on task. He knew that his young protegé was under a lot of pressure to live up to his calling as a minister for Jesus Christ. And I’m sure Timothy felt overwhelmed with the idea of following in Paul’s footsteps. He was a hard act to follow. That’s why Paul goes out of his way to encourage Timothy to stay focused. Paul knew suffering was on its way for Timothy. He knew this young man would face the constant temptation to get distracted by the cares of everyday life. There were certain rules or standards to which Timothy would be held accountable if he wanted to compete well. He couldn’t take shortcuts or choose to disobey out of convenience or expediency. He was going to have to work hard if he expected to see any fruit from his labors.
But these words of warning and encouragement aren’t just for some 1st-Century pastor in training. They are just as appropriate for you and me today. As soon as we become Christ-followers, we put on the uniform and become members of the team. We find ourselves soldiers in the army of God. We become harvesters in the field of God’s Kingdom. We become runners in the race of life, pursuing the ultimate goal of glorification. We are to compete well, fight bravely, work hard, and run with a sense of purpose and perseverance. And it all takes focus. Jesus Himself said, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NLT). He also said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 NLT). It all boils down to priorities and purpose. What is most important in your life? What are your highest priorities? Comfort? Convenience? Popularity? Success? Acceptance? Peace? Pleasure? Happiness?
At some point, as believers, we have to decide if we are all in. Are we truly committed to this thing called the Christian life? Paul warned Timothy about getting distracted by the affairs of civilian life. Jesus used some fairly blunt imagery to convey what that might look like. “As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head’” (Luke 9:57-58 NLT). In other words, Jesus is saying if you’re going to need comfort and security as a guarantee before you follow me, don’t bother. Luke goes on to record a second scene. In this case, Jesus makes the invitation. “He said to another person, ‘Come, follow me.’ The man agreed, but he said, ‘Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead!Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59-60 NLT). There is no indication that this man’s father was on his death bed. He was really saying that he would like to delay commitment until the day came when his father passed away. He had other priorities that trumped those of Christ. The final scene involves another man’s response to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. This man said, “‘Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:60-62 NLT). If you’re going to plow, you have to stay focused. You can’t keep looking back or the furrows you plow will be anything but straight. Your work will be shoddy. Your efforts will prove non-beneficial.
Jesus gave us another example of lack of focus. He said, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT). You can’t let a love of money interfere with your love for God. You can’t serve two masters. You can’t fall in love with the things of this world and have enough love left over for God. The apostle John warned about this very issue. “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you” (1 John 2:15 NLT).
Focus. It’s hard to maintain in this world. Especially when so much of what we are to live for is, as yet, unseen and invisible to our eyes. We can’t see heaven. We can’t visualize holiness. We can’t touch faith. We can experience sanctification, but not always know it’s happening. But all the things of this world are always right there in front of our eyes, appealing to our senses and tempting us to lose our focus. That’s why Paul called Timothy to endure suffering, not to get distracted, to follow the rules, work hard and think about what he was doing. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).