In the final letter before his death, Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy. These words represent some of his most important thoughts as his impending death causes him to reflect on the last 30+ years of suffering for Jesus. In 2Timothy 2.3-7 he writes:
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No solider gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
The passage gives us three images to consider, a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. In the past, I have often viewed these images somewhat narrowly, believing that all Christians should be soldiers, athletes, and farmers in the same way. This view seems to fly in the face of God-given diversity in the church and can easily lend itself to an unhealthy prescription for individual sanctification and service. Widening our interpretation of this passage is both comforting, exciting, and somewhat funny. It is fair to say that ALL Christians fight, ALL Christians run, and ALL Christians farm–they just ALL do it differently.
Everyone has their own fighting style: There are literally hundreds of different fighting styles. All of them are more or less traditional, difficult, complex, formal, etc., depending on the person and place. But if it is a fighting style, and not just a creative derivative of shadow-boxing, they are effective for battle. Spiritually, when we speak about fighting, we are talking about fighting against sin AND for the glory of God. In this war, we all battle differently. And while some people may find it more effective to follow a more formalized system of fighting, others will fight dirty, kicking and scratching–but we all fight. We can all learn something from sharing one another’s fighting styles and techniques, but we must all find what works for us–as long as it works.
Everyone has their own running form: In the same spirit, we all run differently. The goal of the runner is the same as the fighter–the glory of God. It is not enough to have all of the gear, the shoes, sweatband, and cool shorts–we actually have to move. Sometimes all the movement we can muster is a crawl, but eventually it works itself into a walk, and eventually a full out run. If you’ve ever watch people run (or a bow-legged guy like me) you’ll discover that everyone runs with a different form. Again, some of these forms are more effective and pretty than others, but you’ll find that they work. We have to spend less time making sure people run like us and just focus on encouraging them to move. Run, even if it looks ugly, even if you’re out of shape, even if it feels like the end isn’t near-just start running. No one who is actually running is watching you anyway.
Everyone has their own crops to grow: Finally, we have the image of the farmer. You can probably guess where this is going. The farmer is a hard worker. He/she works hard to cultivate the field that God has given them that it might grow what he has planted. The sad thing about a farmer is, after he does his work, all of the results aren’t really up to him. Assuming that he has worked the field the way he is supposed to success or the failure of the crops are ultimately in God’s hands. He cannot control the rain, the sun, the bugs, etc. As we consider farming from a spiritual perspective, we begin to see that no everyone grows the same crops the say way. We all have our own kinds of fields, our own kinds of seed, and our own kinds of crops. But we all have a field of some kind to work–some people thrive with corn others with cucumbers. Some people cultivate their relationship with God through prayer others by studying theology. We are different, but we all work our fields. Some of us might be slash and burn farmers, others will use big machines, and still others will follow a more traditional way–what works? But remember, if after we “work the fields we don’t find a great harvest, consider whether that is a fault of your work…or a result God’s will, for a season.
Like Paul, I pray that at the end of our lives, regardless of our style, form, or plot, we’re all able to say with all confidence, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2Tim.4.7).