When you think of suffering, what images come to mind? Have you ever associated suffering with a farmer before? What about a famous athlete? Probably not. But that is, indeed, what Paul does next in this passage on suffering in 2 Timothy 2:5-6. Join us today as we unpack both of these metaphors and understand what Paul is trying to say about suffering through them.
For the second analogy, Paul turns to the image of an athlete. Look at verse 5. Paul says that an athlete is not rewarded unless he competes according to the rules. This may sound strange, but the idea is that athletes must play by the rules. We all know this, right? Every game has rules, and in order to win, each player must play by the rules.
So, here is the connection: we, as believers, are in a game that God has made. In this game, there are rules, and the way to win in the Christian life is to follow Christ’s rules, which include being willing to suffer for Christ’s sake. The way to win is to endure through tribulations. Believe it or not, Paul calls this a rule for Christian living! That is also what Paul means; to receive the crown, you must suffer. Do you see this? Brothers and sisters, are you willing to suffer hardship? That is what is required of us.
Now, for the third analogy, Paul uses the image of a farmer in 2 Timothy 2:6. The emphasis here is on the farmer who works hard. The farmer who is committed and diligent will get crops. What a great analogy! Many of us know how hard farmers work. Their work is not easy. Rather, it is hard; it is tiring. There is a risk of getting hurt, overworked, exhausted; the list goes on. But for those who endure, for those who stay committed to each step of the job, those farmers will receive their hard-earned crops. Farmers who quit when it gets hard do not reap a harvest.
This is what Paul means when he likens the suffering Christian to farmers; for we must be willing to endure hardship through commitment and perseverance, just like a farmer. Our work in God’s Kingdom is not easy. It is tiring. It is hard. Metaphorically-speaking, you will fight against animals that attack your crop. You may get hurt or injure yourself doing this work. At the very least, you may end each day tired and exhausted from letting your light shine before men. But, like the farmer, it is the hard-working believer who receives the first crops.
So, you see, brothers, based on these analogies, to be a “good” Christian, we must be willing to suffer. In light of all this, let us ask you again: Are you willing to suffer? Are you willing to endure much loss for Christ? Are you willing to face attacks from the evil one? Are you willing to receive physical attacks from enemies of the gospel? Are you willing to endure attacks from false teachers? These are what believers go through. So, count the cost!
Let us also address personal suffering. Brothers and sisters, in God’s sovereignty and goodness, you may suffer a lot personally. Your resources might be taken from you. A storm may knock your house over. Your health may rapidly decline. Your child may fall ill and die. Cancer may strike your wife. The list goes on, but the point is this: you will suffer. We live long enough and we will suffer. So, we ask you: are you willing to endure these kinds of suffering? Are you willing to persevere and trust God? Are you willing to endure through hardships and keep preaching the gospel? You will suffer and we, like Paul, beg you to be willing to suffer for Christ, for His church, and for the gospel!