(September 11, 2022) Richard Winter charges us even as Paul did…
No doubt you are immediately thinking ‘Sloppy living? What do you mean?’ Well, one dictionary definition of sloppy is ‘not taking care or making an effort.’ Consider that definition in respect of your life…
Many people today ask themselves, ‘So, what am I living for?’ Some will say pleasure, money, family… but what if you are a Christian – what are you living for?
The apostle Paul’s answer would be this: The business of Christians in any age is to guard the truth which has been entrusted to them.
In fact he gave this answer as a charge to young Timothy – ‘Guard the truth which has been entrusted to you’ (2 Timothy 1:14).
The 1st century world in which Timothy lived was one of –
- Distorted values.
- Misleading commitments.
- Confused thinking.
- Dangerous misconceptions.
Today, we live in a similar kind of age, in a world deep in trouble. There are many manifestations of unrest and evil in our day too, such as…
- Child abuse.
- Widespread public pornography.
- Muggings and rapes.
- Students in our school systems who cannot seem to learn to even read or write.
A major question for Christians today
It’s as it was in Paul’s day – How can you guard the truth, preserving sanity in an insane world?
Paul’s answer is: ‘… be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 2:1). That is, in order to keep the faith and guard the truth, you yourself must be strong. And the only way you can keep your inner life strong is by having a relationship with the living God.
It has been proven again and again in human history that if you think you can stand against the forces of today’s world by leaning only on your friends, family, guru, psychiatrist, or counsellor, you will find they will crumble when you need them most.
The only reliable source of strength in this day when the world is falling apart is by knowing and relying on the grace that is in Jesus.
Passing on this charge
Paul added that this charge is to be passed on to others who will hand it on to still others… ‘Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others’ (2 Timothy 2:2NLT).
Note that Paul’s charge wasn’t only for young pastors like Timothy; it was and still is for Christians everywhere. We’re all expected to be communicators of the truth, passing on what we ourselves are deeply convinced is true.
That’s the second step in ‘guarding the truth.’ And it is a tremendous responsibility to communicate truth to your children, your friends, and to your neighbours.
The third, a three-fold one, is in Paul’s next words: ‘Take your part in suffering, as a loyal soldier of Christ Jesus. A soldier on active duty wants to please his commanding officer and so does not get mixed up in the affairs of civilian life. An athlete who runs in a race cannot win the prize unless he obeys the rules. The farmer who has done the hard work should have the first share of the harvest’ (2 Timothy 2:3-6 GNB).
Willing to endure hardships
Those three very expressive metaphors which Paul uses add up to saying one thing: In a world that is falling apart, we Christians must commit ourselves without reserve to obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
Basically, Paul is saying:
- Surrender your options.
- Give up any other objective.
- Burn your bridges.
- Resolutely follow your Lord.
- Admit no alternatives.
In other words – Set yourself to live a Christian lifestyle wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and refuse all other lifestyles. Paul stresses that to do so requires the dedication of a soldier, the discipline of an athlete, and the diligence of a farmer.
And that is very necessary for our day, because in every generation there are Christian hangers-on who, sadly, really are not Christians at all!
What tells if a Christian is such a hanger-on or not is how much they are willing to endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
(i) No picnic
In one sense, I’m grateful for the realism of television and movies today with regard to war. Why? It used to be that young men would go away to war with bands playing and banners flying, looking like they were doing a glorious thing. But we know better now.
Thanks to television and movies, we see the awful gore, blood, mud, sweat and tears of war paraded before us. There is nothing glorious about war! It results in death, maimed bodies and destroyed minds, oftentimes of innocent people. War is no picnic: it’s vicious and ugly! A soldier does not go out to enjoy life, to see the world, and have many wonderful experiences of adventure and travel, despite what the recruitment posters say!
Paul is saying that the Christian faces the same thing. We are not called to be Christians to merely enjoy life, to have everything around us pleasant and comfortable.
The second thing about a soldier is that he requires a degree of single-mindedness; soldiers have only one objective: ‘A soldier does not get entangled with civilian pursuits, but his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him’ (2 Timothy 2:4).
That was particularly true in the Roman army; a commander would gather around him men who knew him, loved him, trusted him, and would follow him anywhere. Those were the ones who won the great battles for Rome.
The apostle picks that up and says that is the way Christians ought to be. We are to be single minded! To not be single-minded is the opposite of ‘… a double-minded man, not dependable in all his ways’ (James 1:8MKJV). Christianity is not a way of doing special things; it is a special way of doing everything.
The objective is that, in the midst of whatever we do, whatever our line of business, we are manifesting the character of Jesus Christ. We are seeking to be pleasing to him.
The only objective of the Christian soldier should be to follow the Lord Jesus. The motive here is one of love. Not duty, but love.
Then, Paul says, the Christian lifestyle requires the discipline of an athlete: ‘An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules’ (2 Timothy 2:5ESB)
- There is a different motivation. It is really a form of ambition, but a very proper ambition. Every athlete learns that he has to deny himself certain things if he wants to win.
- He cannot eat just any kind of food; he has to give up chocolate sundaes, strawberry shortcake, and all the rich, luxurious indulgences that others can freely have.
- He doesn’t go in for late nights, wild living, and drunkenness that others may go in for. He resolutely predetermines that he is not going to involve himself in those, so that when the occasion arises he says, ’No.’
- The athlete does so because he wants to win; that is the point. He wants to be ‘crowned.’
The crowns that we Christians will receive are not something we earn by our faithfulness alone. Rather, they represent a test that reveals whether we really were athletes for Christ or not; winning such will represent a proper goal achieved in our life.
We do not want to lose out on what God has for us. We want to achieve all that He has made available, and so we must be ready to say no to many things in order to gain that.
Then, says the apostle, the Christian also needs the diligence of a farmer: ‘It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops’ (2 Timothy 2:6NASB).
Like a farmer, we might have to rise up early and work hard, we do so in expectation of a harvest. The emphasis there is on the word, hard-working. Being a Christian is not just floating through life with God working for you. Rather, it is you working for God, enjoying the privilege of being His faithful servant through whom He does His work today. There is no greater calling than this.
There are visual stimuli on every side that tempt us to give in, to indulge ourselves, to seize hold of life and enjoy it now. The ‘Christian farmer’ is called to say ‘No’ to many things today. Just like the ‘Christian athlete’ exercises to say ‘No!’ And the ‘Christian soldier’ has to say, ‘No! I won’t do it. Those things lead to distraction, to disruption and to a lessening of spiritual intensity in my life; I won’t do them.’
Sadly, the attitude of many Christians today is: ‘I’ve become a Christian in order to get God to bless me, and work for me. If He doesn’t do it the way I want, I’m ready to quit. I don’t want anything to do with Christianity when it gets difficult.’
And that’s the very thing the apostle is warning against in this passage!
Reprogramming the mind
Being a Christian takes long hours of labour. A Christian is called on to reprogram the computer of his or her mind to think differently than other people think. That is not accomplished easily. It takes –
- Hours of reading the Bible until you see life the way the Bible sees it.
- Attending services, sharing, and relating with other Christians how they are struggling and letting them see how you are.
- Diligent labour. It is not something that comes automatically because you happen to be a Christian.
Paul always sets before us that life is not the end of the story, that what we may have to give up here is made up for abundantly when we step out of time into eternity. We’re heaven bound and that is the day for which we labour.
The scriptures have the explanation for the pressures we are going through. They offer the only practical solution to the problems we are facing, and that is what you see as you think through the scriptures. You see yourself differently. You learn to look at others differently. You see forces and powers at work that secular minds do not understand. You look at life differently, and the glorious thing is that you see how it fits.
Paul is saying here that this life is a testing ground where we’ve been put in order to manifest openly before the watching world and creation whether we really are Christians or not. That is the ultimate test, and… sobering words. We are coming into the times that try men and women’s souls, times when we need to take these things very seriously.
Whether we stand or fall is going to determine whether we really have the grace that is in Christ Jesus… and will submit ourselves to the necessary –
- Dedication of a soldier,
- Discipline of an athlete, and
- Diligence of a farmer.
Any why? That we do not live a sloppy Christian lifestyle! And that we might see the results in abundant harvest to the glory of God!
That is the Christian life to which we have been called! Today can be a new day of submission and worship.
Let’s not have sloppy living… the cause of Christ is too great to live without purpose.
Dr Richard Winter pastors The Connection Church, Huntington Beach, California. Link: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com