Just like the early Church, we need to be serious about understanding the Word of God for us and the generations to follow. Like a relay team passing a baton, each generation must do their part. When you study the letter of 2 Timothy, you catch a glimpse of this principle. Paul is writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-7 using a few analogies to depict the Christian life, but let’s focus on his athlete analogy, thinking of ourselves as “athletes in Christ.”
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Suffer [endure] hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
At least five generations are in view here: Christ, who entrusted the body of gospel teaching to Paul, who entrusted it to Timothy, who will entrust it to faithful men who teach others. I guess we could be considered the “other faithful men” because we are in a long line of truth that has been passed down and every believer should think of themselves as athletes in Christ, responsible both for receiving the gospel baton and passing it on in some way.
The sad context, however, reveals the tendency of people to drop the baton! In chapter 1:15, Hermogenes and Phygelus have “turned away” from Paul. In 4:9, Demas is described as having “deserted” Paul out of a love for this present world. And in chapters 3 and 4, Paul prophetically cautions Timothy about the “last days” when people will want to have their ears tickled – rather than listening to truth, they will want to hear what they want to hear. Timohty is being asked to preach the Word in a world that doesn’t always want to hear it, but he must not bend. The Word of God is what people need! That’s why you have one of the clearest affirmation of Scripture’s inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. It is “God-breathed” and for “every season.” We must study the Word to compete “according to the rules” (v. 5).
But what is this going to require? Endurance. That may be the key word for the entire book of 2 Timothy: Endurance. Every soldier, farmer, and athlete must endure. They expect it. They go into it with that mindset. That way, they won’t get mad when things get difficult or give up when it gets hard.
But how do we endure? Is it by gritting our teeth and bearing it? No. Paul basically says, “by supernatural strength in Christ.” More precisely, verse 1 says, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” In other words, just as you entered the race by grace through faith in Christ (1:9), so continue on by the grace in Christ! To endure in receiving and passing the baton, you must depend on God’s grace. God has grace for salvation and for service. For pardon and power. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, right (Jn. 15:5)?
Let’s remember this as we go on day by day in ministry. And let’s keep our eyes on the prize to come – the future rewards for faithfully passing on the baton. The soldier pleases the One who enlisted him. The farmer receives his share of the crop. And the athlete wins the prize.
In Christ with you,