In the midst of whatever hardship you are facing, don’t have the attitude that says, “Oh, I have years and years to go, how will I ever endure to the end?” Instead, consider your situation and conclude, “Things might be hard now, but it will not last forever. Indeed, these difficulties are going to last a short time compared with eternity. How can I endure and therefore make these hard days count?” Look ahead to the end of all these things and to the return of Jesus Christ.

Not only is there a need to work hard in general areas of life, but it is true in Christian ministry and service, and it is also true in the Christian life. There is no easy way to holiness. It is hard work. We have to discipline ourselves and work at regularly reading, studying, and applying the Bible. We have to work at maintaining a consistent and thoughtful prayer life. There is no easy way of doing the Lord’s work in leading other people to the Lord and discipling new believers. It requires hard work to listen to other people’s problems and share in their troubles. Christians do this kind of hard work week after week, and sometimes year after year with another person. And it can sometimes take a long time to see the fruit of those efforts. We must toil faithfully if we would experience the blessings of a spiritual crop. That is what Paul is passing on to Timothy, and we need to learn this, too.

Furthermore, Paul writes that another thing that characterizes soldiers that is they have to give up the entanglements of civilian life. These kinds of things are a distraction for soldiers, and they need to be free of those things that would keep them from doing what is necessary for the defense of the empire. Similarly for the Christian. He is in the world but is not to be of the world. He is not to be lured away by worldly entanglements that will keep him from pleasing his commanding officer, who of course is the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Now at this point in the letter he introduces three images, which occupy verses 3-6. They are images that are directed particularly to Timothy, who perhaps was timid, in order to encourage him to be strong. The three images are of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. Here’s the way he puts it: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” In the case of each of these three images there are applications for the way Timothy is to serve as a faithful minister of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In chapter one Paul talks about the need for those who will guard the sacred deposit of the gospel, who are determined to proclaim it, who are prepared to suffer for it, and who will pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the generation that will rise up and follow them. This need is just as true in our day as it was in Paul’s. Timothy lived in an age of decline, and we live in an age of decline. Timothy was challenged not to be ashamed of the gospel, and we too should not be ashamed of the gospel. He was told to guard the gospel as a precious possession and to proclaim it; we too are called to do precisely the same thing.