Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

Soldier / Athlete / Farmer


Soldier - Athlete - Farmer

by Dennis Pollock

The more I read the writings of the apostle Paul, the more impressed I become, not only with Paul's devotion to Christ and amazing ministry, but also with his ability as a wordsmith. His fluency, powerful illustrations, and rhetorical flourishes are both brilliant and arresting. He was a near perfect instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit to define, explain, and articulate the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ. Sinners have found Jesus and Christians have been fed, nourished, encouraged, challenged, and equipped for service for the last two thousand years by reading his amazing epistles. Would Martin Luther ever have figured out that salvation is "by grace through faith" were it not for Paul's writings? Would John Wesley's heart ever have been "strangely warmed" if he had not happened to hear a commentary on Paul's epistle to the Romans by Luther? The debt the church of Jesus Christ owes to the short little rabbi originally known as "Saul of Tarsus" is incalculable.

In Paul's second and final letter to Timothy we have the last words recorded by the great apostle. The letter is a filled with wonderful insights and encouraging words, as Paul encourages Timothy to follow Christ and warns him of possible dangers which could destroy him and his ministry. In the second chapter Paul rattles off three quick analogies to represent Christian life and service. He doesn't say a lot about them, but simply refers to them one by one, applies a point or two to each analogy, and then tells Timothy cryptically: "Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things" (2 Timothy 2:7). These three simple analogies reveal the essence of what it means to know and serve Jesus Christ.

The Soldier

Soldier

In the first analogy Paul compares the servant of Christ to a soldier. He writes: "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 2:3).

Paul's first admonition to Timothy (and to us all) is that he must think of his life and ministry in relation to a soldier, especially in terms of the hardships that soldiers experience. Then, as now, soldiers' lives are radically different from their civilian counterparts. While civilians can work at any job they choose, soldiers must go where they are told and do whatever their commander assigns them to do. Civilians normally eat more, party more, stay out later, get up later, watch more television, get less exercise, have more leisure time, make more money, spend more money, buy more toys, do less push-ups, run less miles, eat more doughnuts, go to more movie theaters, football games, basketball games, play more golf, attend more concerts, and waste more time than soldiers, especially when those soldiers are involved in a war.

Paul makes it clear that there are hardships involved in serving Christ; it will not always be fun. In fact fun, or even happiness, is never the goal of the Christian life. Paul knew whereof he spoke. When Jesus first called a startled Ananias to go to Paul and pray for him, in order that he might regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit, He calls Paul a chosen instrument and declares, "I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake" (Acts 9:16). But not all of the hardship Paul endures is brought on by outside agents. To the Corinthians Paul describes some of the self-discipline he demands of himself for the kingdom's sake: "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27). According to Paul, to follow Jesus Christ requires a willingness to endure hardship: the hardship of pleasures denied, the hardship of self-discipline, the hardship of alienation from those who have no use for God in their lives, the hardship of being misunderstood and maligned, and sometimes the hardship of very real persecution. When we attempt to make converts but refuse to warn them about the hardships that are part of following Christ, we do them no favor. The command to take up our cross and follow Jesus has never been rescinded.

Paul reveals another dimension by which the Christian life resembles that of a soldier with these words: "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). Short of outright backsliding, entanglement in the world is perhaps the most effective destroyer of Christian fruitfulness. Jesus spoke of this in His parable about the four types of soil. The hard soil never gives the seed a chance to sprout and grow and the rocky soil is too shallow to allow a strong root system. The soil covered with thorns and weeds is the "entanglement soil." These are people who have divine life, the seeds of grace have sprouted and grown in their hearts, but according to Jesus they "are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity" (Luke 8:14).

Notice Jesus does not say they are choked with fornication, stealing, and murder. They are not criminals; these are decent people, nice people, religious people. They come to church most Sundays, but show little interest in any kind of real involvement. Because of their love for sports or television or the Internet, or movies, making money, keeping their lawn immaculate, or their obsession with any one of a thousand different time and energy wasters, they never spend much time in God's word. Indeed weeks and sometimes months can go by without them spending as much as five minutes in the Bible during a single day. Their prayer life is almost nil;  a quick prayer before their meals is the sum and substance of it. And the fact that they never really do anything for Jesus never seems to bother them. They figure, "I cannot preach, my singing voice is pathetic – I'll leave ministry to those more talented, more called than I am." They never recognize that if only they were to draw near to Jesus, He would find a place for them in some ministry, some way, somehow, somewhere. Just because we may work at a secular job does not excuse us from seeking some type of opportunity through which we may bless others. There are all kinds of ministries that non-preaching, non-singing, Christians can do, and do very well. But many are choked, they are entangled with non-eternal matters, and cannot please Him who enlisted them as soldiers.

The Athlete

Athlete

Next Paul uses the athlete to portray Christian life and service, writing: "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules" (2 Timothy 2:5). The main point here is that Christians have rules to follow if they are to serve Jesus effectively, just as athletes must follow the rules of their sport. Talent alone would mean next to nothing if an athlete paid no attention to the rules. Imagine a gifted basketball player who is tall, a great jumper, shoots field goals at 70 percent, dribbles the ball beautifully and has blinding speed – but pays no attention whatsoever to the out of bounds lines. Every time he gets the ball he dribbles all over the court in a masterful demonstration of talent, but ends up going out of bounds and turning the ball over to the other team. He would be worse than useless. Or imagine a gifted soccer player who had the habit of picking the ball up with his hands and passing it to his teammates. Or a golfer who, whenever he drove the ball into the rough, would pick the ball up and throw it into the fairway. There is a word for athletes who ignore the rules, and that word is "loser."

So it is in the Christian life and ministry. Good intentions are marvelous but they are not enough. Talent is wonderful but it does not suffice. Boldness is to be commended, but by itself it cannot bring the blessings of heaven. We must follow the rules. This brings us to the obvious questions, "So just what are the rules for Christian service?" One might argue that they are in essence the entire New Testament, but allow me to give a couple of what I consider to be the most fundamental rules to which the servants of Jesus Christ must adhere.

First is the rule of faithfulness. The Bible says, "It is required in stewards that one be found faithful." My simple definition of faithfulness in the Christian life is: "consistent reliability, integrity, and devotion to Jesus." Faithfulness implies being as trustworthy today as you were yesterday or last year, or perhaps more so.  It means being honest when all eyes are on you and just as honest when nobody is watching. It involves being available for Jesus' use when it is convenient and being just as available when it is most inconvenient. It means living uprightly when God's blessings are falling all over you, and you are feeling strong and confident, and determining to live just the same when your foundations have been ripped out from beneath you, and confusion and depression seem mingled together to create misery such as you've never known before. If you are to be a steward of the grace gifts of Jesus Christ, never forget that "it is required of stewards that one be found faithful." And you can be absolutely certain that you will be tested in this.

Another rule is the rule of perseverance. When speaking of the four types of soil that represent those who hear the gospel, Jesus concludes with those who are the good soil, "those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15). What we must understand is that, in the things of the kingdom of God, there are no overnight successes. If you ever see a ministry that is flourishing, you can be sure that someone went through some dry and tough years earlier, before it ever got to that level. Even Jesus Himself was not an overnight success. He spent thirty years preparing for a ministry that would last perhaps three and a half years. In Proverbs we read, "An inheritance gained hastily at the beginning will not be blessed at the end" (Proverbs 20:21). If you start some type of ministry and find yourself wondering why your ministry is so small and touches so few people, you are probably right on schedule. "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much." Before God will ever entrust you with bigger things He will almost certainly test you with smaller things. Embrace the tiny little opportunities your Heavenly Father places before you. They are the key to the "much fruit" Jesus promises to everyone who abides in Him.

The Farmer

Farmer

First Paul compared Christian life and service to the soldier; next he likened it to an athlete. Finally he compares it to the farmer. Paul writes: "The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops" (2 Timothy 2:6). A farmer may have a huge field of watermelons he is growing for sale to others, but he will always be the first consumer. The owner of an apple orchard may ship nearly all of those apples out of state to be sold in places far and wide, but he will first sample his crop, and keep a small supply for himself and his family. Likewise the minister of Christ, whose calling is to produce the fruits of righteousness in others, must first taste of the fruits himself. He who would call men and women to Christ, that they might be filled with love, joy, and peace, must know the love, joy, and peace of Jesus in his own heart.

Our Lord Jesus could tolerate much in the people of Israel, to whom He was sent, but it was the hypocritical Pharisees who raised His anger like no others. These stern, proud, enforcers of the laws of God were demanding fruit in others but showing none within themselves. They were farmers who never partook of their own crops. The church of Jesus Christ has always been plagued by similar types, men and women who preached, taught, and sang like angels but lived like devils. To such folks Paul declares, "let the farmer be first to partake of the crops."

Soldiers, athletes, and farmers – each has a lesson for those who would volunteer for the service of the Lord Jesus. Let us be about our Master's business, enduring hardship, keeping ourselves untangled from worldly pursuits and pleasures, playing by Christ's rules, and partaking of His fruits.

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