Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Tim 2:3)
Technically, I was a soldier for over 20 years. But I was not a real soldier. I was a chaplain. As a chaplain I was an officer and I got many benefits that a real soldier did not. If things got uncomfortable or hard, I could usually find a way, or an excuse, out of the situation.
But did I ever have a great deal of respect for real soldiers. Not only do they spend time away from their families, but they often deal with many physical hardships when they do so. Their food is often terrible. Their bed is sometimes the ground. The weather beats upon them. They have to spend many nights without sleep as they accomplish either real world or training missions.
We have seen on television how many of them spend years in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. In those places they face the possibility of injuries or even death. A good friend of mine, a real soldier, volunteered for his second tour in Iraq. On that tour he lost both of his legs in an explosion.
I say these things just to give civilians who have never been in the military an idea of how difficult it is to be a real soldier. The country singer Toby Keith wrote a song called, “An American Soldier.” He tried to capture what they do. Part of the lyrics are as follows:
And I will always do my duty,
No matter what the price,
I’ve counted up the cost,
I know the sacrifice.
Oh, and I don’t want to die for you,
But if dyin’s asked of me,
I’ll bear that cross with honor,
‘Cause freedom don’t come free.
Perhaps that puts the words to Timothy from Paul in 2 Timothy in a more understandable context. He tells Timothy to endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.
Paul was such a soldier. He had endured many hardships for the Lord and when he wrote this letter he was in prison waiting to be executed. He wants Timothy to follow that example.
Timothy had been left at Ephesus. Even though Paul had spent a long time there, it was not a city that was particularly friendly towards Paul. His ministry there had caused a riot (Acts 19). It was a center of idolatry. The church was in danger of false teachers (Rev 2:2), just as Paul had predicted (Acts 20:29-30).
Timothy was following the footsteps of a condemned criminal. We also know that he had some physical ailments (1 Tim 5:23). He was a young man and some in the churches resented his youth (1 Tim 4:12), since he was the lieutenant of the Apostle Paul. Couldn’t Paul have found somebody more qualified?
When all these things are taken into consideration, it is clear that Timothy was in the midst of a spiritual battle. Just like a real soldier, he would have to endure hardship if he was going to complete his mission.
But just like when we look at real soldiers in the army, we can look at what was required of Timothy and ask if such hardships were worth it. Paul tells Timothy that all the hardships he faces are indeed worth the sacrifice. He says that Timothy is working for a prize (2:6). That prize would include reigning with Christ in His Kingdom (2:13).
I often wondered when I saw real soldiers in the Army do what they do: Why do they do it? The answers I would get when I asked them were many. Some did it because it was the best paying job they could find. Some did it for the benefits. Some did it because their fathers and grandfathers had served in the Army. Some did it for patriotic reasons, such as a response to September 11th. Almost all of them said that they also desired higher rank and more responsibility in the Army. If they performed well, they would obtain that goal. Whatever the reason, they did it because they thought the reward was worth the hardships they endured.
As a Christian, Timothy was asked to endure hardships for his commander, the Lord Jesus Christ. Clearly we are as well. As Free Grace people we have the Gospel that so desperately needs to be proclaimed. The vast majority of the world opposes our message. If we are going to faithfully proclaim it, we will have to be like real soldiers.
But Paul says the sacrifices will be well worth it. He thought so even after all he had gone through. He thought so even though he was about to die in his service to the Lord. He did it because he desired to please the Lord and reign with Him in His coming Kingdom. He wanted great responsibility in that Kingdom. We should to. Let’s not be the kind of soldier I was in the Army. Let’s be like the soldier in Toby Keith’s song. Let’s be real soldiers of the Lord.