Theme: Lessons from Athletes and Farmers
In this week’s lessons Paul continues to encourage Timothy in his Christian life and ministry.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1-3
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. 
The second image Paul uses is of an athlete. He says if anyone competes as an athlete he doesn’t receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. There are two different things that Paul talks about when he talks about athletes. In fact, he talks about them so well and with such insight that some commentators have speculated that maybe at a certain point in his youth Paul himself might have competed in athletic events. In 1 Corinthians 9 he talks about it. He says that anyone who sets out to be an athlete needs to train himself. He disciplines himself to become physically all that he can be. Now here in 2 Timothy 2, Paul doesn’t talk about discipline so much, but certainly he would want Timothy to be disciplined. But what he talks about here is competing according to the rules.
An athlete might be well trained and in terrific shape, but if he breaks the rules he is disqualified and doesn’t get any prize at all. So like a soldier, Paul wants Timothy to endure hardship and remain focused on Christ. And like an athlete, Paul wants Timothy to keep the rules that God lays down and to walk according to the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is those who do this who will receive the victor’s crown.
The history of sports is filled with people who cheated and suffered the consequences. One recent example is Rosie Ruiz, who ran in the last Boston Marathon. There are thousands of people who run, and people get easily lost in the shuffle. To everybody’s surprise this girl whom nobody had ever heard of before was the first woman across the finish line. She was awarded the prize and people began to wonder where she was when the race started. No one had ever heard of her and she never won anything else before. They began to examine her records and sure enough the best time she had ever had before was 45 minutes off the time she had for that Boston Marathon. They looked at great big pictures of the crowd of runners who were at the starting line, and it was published in the Boston papers that they would give a reward to anybody who could pick Rosie Ruiz out of the photograph of the thousands of people who were at the starting line. But nobody could do it. It became clear that Rosie Ruiz was not at the starting line; rather, she entered the race somewhere along the way and ran only part of the route very quickly, causing her to cross the finish line first. She didn’t compete according to the rules, and was disqualified for cheating. 
The third example that Paul gives is that of the farmer. Farming is hard work, especially in a day without motorized equipment and other modern technology. Paul knew you had to work long, hard hours plowing the fields, planting the seeds for the crops, and keeping after the weeds. Then, after all that, you needed to harvest the crop. You did this season after season, and year after year. Paul knew it was very difficult, and so he tells Timothy that he wants him to be like a farmer who labors hard so that he might enjoy the crops. Paul wants Timothy to carry out his ministry faithfully so that he, too, might reap the spiritual rewards that God gives. 
This is a helpful lesson for us because even Christians are not always willing to work hard at things. We are so used to inventions and modern progress making work easier that we expect everything we do should be without much difficulty. And if some work or task is difficult, it must be because someone else failed to do something correctly, or if not that, conclude that hard things are not worth doing at all. I recall a story that concerned one of the sons of a Roman emperor who was being educated under Cicero. This son complained to Cicero about the difficulty of a task or academic assignment, and asked whether there was an easier way to go about it. Cicero replied that there is no royal road to learning. No matter whether one is born to royalty or to a commoner, the work is the same. 
I suspect the tendency toward expecting things to be easy is greater in developed countries like ours. And if something is not easy, it must be because somebody is not doing their duty, whether it be the fault of the government, our teachers, our employers, or someone else. We have to change our thinking and learn that we have to work hard, and that anything worth doing is hard work and should not expect it to come easily.
Study Questions:

In using the image of an athlete, what particular part of an athlete’s work does Paul mention, and what does he mean by it?
Why is the image of a farmer appropriate to describe the Christian life?

Reflection: Describe some entanglements that can harm our service to Christ.
Application: What particular entanglement do you struggle against? Pray for strength to prevail against it.

Study Questions
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