Pictures. We love pictures. Motion pictures. Still pictures. Word pictures. Someone once told me that he only reads picture books, which, in my experience, involves no reading at all. Be that it may, we are visual people. God made us this way (Rom. 1:20). What we can see communicates to us in deep ways.
This is why we have analogies. They create pictures for us to connect ideas. Analogies are like vehicles to new ideas. (Did you see what I just did?) They teach new things using old things. Because they use familiar, real-life objects, analogies are easily received and more interesting than abstract pros. Speaking of abstract pros …
An analogy is a comparison of two different things for the purpose of explaining something based on how they are similar.
Scripture is full of analogies. Three of which are employed in 2 Timothy 2:3-7 to convey to us how Christians ought to endure hardship for the sake of ministry. “Share in suffering,” Paul says, “as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). Consider this the red carpet for the following pictures: the dedicated soldier, the disciplined athlete, and the diligent farmer. Each endure suffering in their own way. Each prioritize for what is good. Each will teach us the way to endure.
Endure like a Dedicated Soldier who Serves
The first analogy is the dedicated soldier. He understands that he is in a war. “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Tim. 2:4). Since analogies depend on pictures, let’s remember that our ancient contemporaries saw Roman soldiers when they imagined a soldier. Not a big deal, but keep it in mind.
The Soldier is Actively Serving
In the original language, the word “soldier” is actually the words meaning “one who is actively serving” or “one who is on duty.” He was a front-line soldier, engaging in combat. It implies one who is keeping watch, staying alert, remaining vigilant, keeping on guard. He is staying on his toes. He is sharp, quick, perceptive. He is in constant danger on the front-line, so he must be ready for battle or to dodge the attacks of the enemy. Rapper Da Truth said that we need to be “on duty” …
We’re on duty, which simply means to be on call / To be alert, to be watchful, to be on guard / We’re on duty, that’s why we walk through the mall / With our spiritual sensitivities up to par / We’re on duty, from the block to the walls / Of the barbershop where the talk is not godly at all / We’re on duty, it’s not Christian at all / So we duck every time the wicked try to pitch us the ball.
The Soldier is Solely Devoted
By this, I mean that he is single-minded. He does not get “entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Tim. 2:4). The word “entangle” means “to weave.” Outside of the New Testament, it was used to refer to sheep tangled in thorns. The soldier is not to weave, or get caught up, in the normal affairs of life, or non-military matters. He is on duty. While everyday life is permitted, allowing yourself to get bogged down with them is not. They cannot distract you from your military responsibilities. Consider this story from Luke:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:57-62).
There is nothing wrong with burying the dead or saying goodbye. But, if they prevent you from fulfilling the orders of your commander who says “go and proclaim the kingdom of God,” then they are entanglements. The soldier who goes into war while looking back is unfit for battle. The affairs of life have choked out his devotion (Matt. 13:22).
The Soldier is Intentionally Loyal
If the soldier’s “aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Tim. 2:4). The word translated “one who enlisted him” refers to a kind of commander who gathers soldiers and dispatches them into battle with their orders. He is the boss, the chief leader. Jesus spoke to this end, “No one can serve two masters, for he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). The soldier must fulfill the orders of his commander in order have the pleasure of hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). Christians, who are consumed with God’s approval, will endure as a soldier. Da Truth closed with this:
They can’t catch us involved, because you know you’re a shade / From the pencil in the picture that’s drawn / Of His character, if you care about the picture at all / With each photo, we show the world depictions of God / In every context they find us, catch us involved / Being normal, being cordial, stitching the raw / Materials of faith and our culture when Christians resolve / That spreading the fame of Christ is our mission of course.
Endure like a Disciplined Athlete who Competes
The second analogy is a picture of a disciplined athlete. He understands that he is in a contest. “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). Again, Paul’s contemporaries would imagine a Roman athlete. The term itself is generic so it could be any kind of athlete.
The Athlete is Always Controlled
In the original language, the word translated “athlete” simply means “one who is competing” or more forcefully, “one who is engaging in a contest.” It has to do with striving and straining to win. Here’s the thing. Athletes don’t show up willy-nilly and haphazardly without training. Rather, the striving and straining for the contest begins long before the actual competition starts. In terms of discipline and preparation, the competition begins months, even years prior. What usually separates the winners from the losers is not always talent. It is, however, always effort. The athlete who is always disciplined is the athlete who desires to win.
The Athlete is Prize Oriented
Athletes strive and strain their bodies to exhaustion because they long for the prize. In ancient competitions, winners were crowned with ornamental wreaths made up of branches that would eventually fade and die. We, however, strive for a lasting crown. See what Paul said about this:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24–27).
The imperishable crown that Paul refers to is mentioned later in 2 Timothy as a “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). Self-discipline is costly and painful. But the athlete who wins, will keep his eyes on the prize. It is not just motivating. It is godly.
The Athlete is Lawfully Competing
Continuing to use the metaphor of competition, Paul says that the athlete who desires to win must compete “according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). The Roman games were certainly in mind here. Participants at this time were required to meet three qualifications in order to compete. First, they had to be born Greek. Second, they had to prepare at least ten months and swear before a statue of Zeus. Third, they had to compete within a specific set of rules just as any sport has today. To violate any of these three would disqualify an athlete. In the same way, we are to live and fulfill our spiritual ministries in a way that does not disqualify us—not in the sense of salvation, but in the sense of effectiveness, winning the prize.
Endure like a Diligent Farmer who Works
The third picture is that of a diligent farmer. “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Tim. 2:6). Most of us have little to no context for this. We know what a farmer is in theory, but few have actually experienced farming in our more metropolitan areas. Farming was a huge deal in ancient times. Agriculture was critical.
The Farmer is Persistently Toiling
This picture is a unique one for several reasons. For instance, it is the only analogy where the subject is described using a noun. Paul used a verb meaning “one who actively serves” to refer to a soldier (2 Tim. 2:4). He used a verb meaning “one who engages in competition” to refer to an athlete (2 Tim. 2:5). However, to refer to a farmer, he uses a noun which easily translates to farmer. It is plain and straightforward. It means “toiler of the soil.”
It is also unique because of its dependencies. A soldier requires a war. An athlete requires a contest. A farmer, however, only needs dirt. He can find that anywhere. This is a plain old farmer. Calling him an “agriculturist” would be too much. He is worker of the ground. He doesn’t wait for anything or anyone. As long as there is dirt under his feet, he will toil. He is persistently toiling. He never stops.
The Farmer is Hard Working
It may be overly obvious, but the farmer is hard-working. In fact, he is described as such (2 Tim. 2:6). This is a verb meaning “to toil intensely.” It is to wear yourself out, to work yourself into complete exhaustion. The farmer starts early and ends late. He toils in snow, drought, flooding, heat, bugs, weeds, and animals. He might even struggle against the antics of burglars and trespassers. His work is humdrum, routine, unexciting, and uneventful. It is the same thing every day—working the dirt.
In comparison to the other pictures, the farmer is generally alone in his work. He has no encouragement or coaching. He has no accountability or extra hands. There are no trainers to teach him, no spectators to watch him, no judges to critique him. The soldier has commanders and fellow infantry. The athlete has trainers and assessors. The farmer has to work hard because he works alone.
The Farmer is Abundantly Rewarded
Like the other analogies, the farmer works for a reward. But again, his is unique. The farmer “ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Tim. 2:6). The soldier wins medals and enjoys the praise of his countrymen for his victory. The athlete wins a crown and the people applaud him for his victory. The farmer, on the other hand, wins in the quiet of the garden where no one sees. He receives no medal, no applause, no crown, no recognition at all. His reward is the blessing of God. The farmer works the ground then rests. God causes it to grow.
The farmer is rewarded for his diligence by the very thing he works to create. He is the first one to enjoy the produce God caused to grow. Before telling Timothy to endure like these people, Paul tells him to teach the truth of God to others as he learned it. To teach, one must first study. Maybe this is what Paul had in mind. As the farmer toils in the ground to feed others, the Christian toils in the gospel to teach others. Therefore, as the farmer enjoys the first and best fruit of his labor, so does the Christian. The best thing about teaching God’s word is that you are first being feeding yourself.
A Reward for Endurance
All of these analogies have a common thread—a reward for endurance. They all suffer hardship for the greater purpose and end result. Paul says to “think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7). The word for “understanding” here means to “run together” and make sense. In other words, consider the analogies and allow God to piece things together for you so that you can endure hardship the godly way.