In 2 Tim 2:3, the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to endure hardship with him like a good soldier of Christ. What it means to be a good soldier of Christ? How did Paul motivate Timothy to be a good soldier of Christ?
St. Paul told Timothy: “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” (2 Tim 2:4-6)
A good soldier should always try to please his commanding officer. He is not to pursue his own plans, or to have his own will, or to accumulate property or fame for himself. His will is absorbed in the will of his commander, and his purpose is accomplished if he meet with his approbation. Nowhere else is it so true that the will of one becomes lost in that of another, as in the case of the soldier. In an army it is contemplated that there shall be but one mind, one heart, one purpose – that of the commander; and that the whole army shall be as obedient to that as the members of the human body are to the one will that controls all. The application of this is obvious. The grand purpose of the minister of the gospel is to please Christ. He is to pursue no separate plans, and to have no separate will, of his own; and it is contemplated that the whole “Corps” of Christian ministers and members of the churches shall be as entirely subordinate to the will of Christ, as an army is to the orders of its chief.
In the Grecian games, no one could obtain the prize unless he had complied with all the rules of the games, and had thus given to those with whom he contended, a fair opportunity to succeed. So the apostle here represents the Christian minister as engaged in a struggle or conflict for the crown. He says that he could not hope to win it unless he should comply with all the rules by which it is conferred; unless he should subdue every improper propensity, and make an effort like that evinced by the combatants at the Olympic games (Cf. 1 Cor 9:26-27).
St. Paul reminded Timothy that labour must precede reward; that if a man would reap, he must sow; that he could hope for no crops, unless he toiled for them. The point was not that the farmer would be the first to receive a share of the crops; but that he must first labour before he obtained the reward. Thus understood, this would be an encouragement to Timothy to persevere in his toils, looking forward to the reward.
The Apostle Paul told Timothy: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Tim 2:11-13)
Paul was telling Timothy that which he was about to say was worthy of entire credence and profound attention. The objective is to motivate Timothy to endure trials by the hope of salvation. He assured him that the members will be treated as the Head is. We become united with Christ by faith, and, if we share his treatment on earth, we shall share his triumphs in heaven (Cf. Rom 8:17).
We must acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ, and our dependence on him for salvation, and our attachment to him, in every proper manner. This profession may be made in uniting with a church, at the communion, in conversation, and in conduct. The Scriptures mean, by a profession of religion, an exhibition of it in every circumstance of the life and before all people. It is not merely in one act that we must do it, but in every act. We must be ashamed neither of the person, the character, the doctrines, nor the requirements of Christ. If we are; if we deny him in these things before people; if we are unwilling to express our attachment to him in every way possible, then it is right that he should “disown all connection with us,” or deny us before God, and he will do it (Cf. Matt 10:33; Luke 12:9). It stands to reason that if we deny “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) we will always be lost, blind, and “a slave to sin” (John 8:34; Rom 6:18,20).
Although God is pure love and mercy, he is also immutable and cannot lie (Cf. Num 23:19; Heb 6:18; Tit 1:2). He loves us so much that he sent his only begotten son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world (Cf. 1 John 2:2). We should not treat Christ as the universal sin absorber who gives us the licence to sin or be unfaithful to God, but rather learn from him how to die to ourselves (i.e. kenosis) so that others might live (Cf. John 12:24). If we are unbelieving and unfaithful, Christ will remain true to his word, and we cannot hope to be saved. The object of the Apostle Paul evidently is, to excite Timothy to fidelity in the performance of duty, and to encourage him to bear trials, by the assurance that we cannot hope to escape if we are not faithful to the cause of the Saviour. This interpretation accords with the design which he had in view.
God cannot deny his very nature to save those who are unfaithful. He cannot falsify his declarations that “whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). He cannot consistently with his character regard faith and unbelief as the same thing. Those who are saved and who endure in their faith (as Paul has exhorted Timothy to do) are assured of eternal life and a place of honour and authority in His kingdom (Cf. 2Tim 2:11-12a). Unbelievers who deny the Saviour are assured of rejection; they will have no part in the kingdom (Cf. 2Tim 2:12b-13). These two destinies take place after the resurrection of the dead, the very thing the false teachers seek to deny in one way or another (Cf. 1 Cor 15:12; 2Tim 2:18).
Let the hymn “The Lord Is My Light” remind us to trust in the Lord at all times: