“It makes you stronger!”
Coaches have a way, don’t they? These were my coach’s words in junior high at an early morning football practice as we were whining about having to do two-a-days when the first game wasn’t for another month.
Although he was certainly correct, we as junior high boys did not agree when we wanted to be home doing nothing in the last two weeks before school started.
At the point in the process, the head coach was more concerned with our stamina than the rules of football. Later, of course, he shifted his strategy to include how to play well and play right. In many ways, those lessons in football serve me well in life.
In today’s journey through 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul shifts metaphors from last week’s military one to this week’s: sports. We find this in 2 Timothy 2:5:
5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.2 Timothy 2:5
New International Version
Whether your sport is American football, International Football (soccer, to all of us Americans), baseball, gymnastics, basketball, golf, or cricket, every sport has rules one must follow. And no matter how good an athlete might be, they don’t get crowned a winner if they don’t follow the rules of the game.
Like the athletes of our favorite professional sports, Christians are running our race according to the rules. It’s not enough to finish; we must finish well.
That may come as a surprise to some of you: how we run the race matters.
We are not saved by the keeping of the Law of God, but that doesn’t mean we have no obligation to it. The Law of God has now been written on our hearts so that we are capable of keeping the essence of Godly morality (see Romans 8:3-4 and Jeremiah 31:33).
Our keeping God’s holy standard is not how we earn our salvation; it is how we demonstrate our salvation. You might want to read that sentence again. 🙂
But we’d be missing the point if all we saw was Paul telling us to “play by the rules” of being “good” Christians. He’s not just trying to show us morality. As people filled with the Spirit of God, that’s a given. Instead, the aging Apostle is trying to help us see the larger picture of how we serve in the Lord’s Kingdom.
Don’t forget what’s happening in 2 Timothy: Paul is a mentor writing to his mentee. These are leadership development lessons. The Apostle is calling Timothy—and by extension all who fill leadership roles in the Church of the Lord Jesus—to serve faithfully. We are called to run the course with diligence, skill, and faithfulness.
It takes spiritual stamina to run our race well. Life and the Devil himself will see to it that we have struggles. We cannot avoid pain, but we can discipline ourselves to see through it to the point we keep our eyes on the prize: the pleasure of Jesus.
It is with that perspective we are able to endure the hardships of “everyday life”. It is with that perspective we make it to the end to receive the blessings of the pleasure of our Master, Jesus.
The struggle makes us stronger. The perspective makes us endure. The prize makes us compete lawfully.