In 2011, Rob Sloan was accused of cheating and asked to return his bronze medal for the Kielder Marathon. While he appeared to finish in third place, a witness accused the runner of leaving the race, taking a bus to the finish line, and then re-entering the course near the end. While Sloan denied the accusation, it cast doubt on his success and his character.
In today’s reading, Paul advises Timothy: “Don’t take shortcuts in ministry!” He encourages Timothy to do the hard work of mentoring and training leaders, so they could, in turn, train others. This kind of hands-on mentoring can be time consuming and challenging, especially when false teachers are trying to influence people as well. But there are no shortcuts for this kind of work.
Paul then gives Timothy an unlikely invitation: to “join with me in suffering” (v. 3). The New Testament does not promise that being a Christian will make life easy. In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus warned His disciples, “Remember what I told you . . . if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Paul understood this dynamic well. He also knew his suffering was not in vain and wanted to inform Timothy of what to expect.
To help Timothy think through this teaching, Paul uses three analogies. First, a soldier does not get distracted by the crowds. Instead, he single-mindedly works to please his commanding officer (v. 4). Similarly, an athlete endures grueling training in order to receive the prize. Finally, a farmer works diligently in order to receive the benefit of crops (v. 6). Paul’s point? Timothy’s suffering and work was not in vain, but focused on the certain hope of God’s approval.
>> Are you struggling to stay the course? Sometimes we simply need the reminder to keep our eyes on the end goal. Charles Spurgeon once quipped, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” While not glamorous, faithfulness in ministry is a key to success.
Our reading today celebrates steadfastness in faith and in ministry. Let’s ask the Lord to give us insight into the three analogies Paul is using: a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer.