Today’s Reading: 2 Timothy 2
Bill Bright has been one of the most influential Christian leaders of our generation. He and his wife, Vonette, founded Campus Crusade for Christ , which is now active in 190 countries, and consists of 26,000 staff members and an additional 553,000 trained volunteers, who work on campuses and in various settings around the world. Campus Crusade also produced the Jesus film that has been seen by more than 5.5 billion people to date, and the “I Found It” campaign, which swept the globe in 1975 and brought millions more to Christ. Bill also wrote more than one hundred books. He wrote his last one, The Journey Home, when he was slowly and painfully losing his battle with a debilitating illness called pulmonary fibrosis.
This is how his physician told him he didn’t have much longer to live:
‘He sat me down one day—Vonette and me—in his office and said, “You don’t seem to realize what’s happening to you. You’re dying. It’s worse than cancer. It’s worse than heart trouble. We can deal with these in some measure, but nobody can help you with pulmonary fibrosis. You are going to die a miserable death. You need to get your head out of the sand and be prepared for it.”
So I said, “Well, praise the Lord. I’ll see the Lord sooner than I’d planned.”’
American poet W. H. Auden wrote, “Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.” Think about that. While everyone is eating and enjoying the day, we all know there is an end. One Puritan writer said, “If you attempt to talk with a dying man about sports or business, he is no longer interested. He now sees other things as more important. People who are dying recognize what we often forget, that we are standing on the brink of another world.”
Second Timothy is the apostle Paul’s “long journey home” book. This is number fourteen of Paul’s letters. It’s his last one. And it’s an investment into leaders and, more specifically, young leaders. Former United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, said, “The task of the leader is to get their people from where they are to where they have not been.” This was the charge Paul gave Timothy:
“No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.” (2 Timothy 2:4-6)
In this challenge to Timothy, Paul uses three images: a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. With each of these images and examples, Paul specified something importantly inherent in each of them: to be effective.
Be a soldier. If you are in active service, you don’t entangle yourself in the affairs of everyday life. Or as one version says: “For every soldier called to active duty must divorce himself from the distractions of this world” (TPT). The soldier sees the big picture. He is not distracted by minutiae, but is in it to please the One who enlisted Him. The soldier lives for his General.
Be an athlete. Compete according to the rules. There are no shortcuts to winning. Paul is saying the prize is for those who keep the rules. With so many performance-enhancing drugs hitting professional athletes today, it’s a perfect example of trying to cut corners to win. Winning in the Christian life has no shortcuts. It may be a longer path and journey but God is doing something in your training.
Be a farmer. He is referred to as the hard-working farmer. Hard work gets results. The fruit of the farmer’s labor is inevitable; a crop comes because of his commitment to that field. In God’s Kingdom, it seems God gives promises, but they are not automatic. God gives the children of Israel the promised land, but Joshua has to fight for it for seven years. Work hard and stay diligent.
Leadership calls for those who see the bigger picture, those who don’t take shortcuts, and those who work hard. One of my favorite writers is W. H. Griffith Thomas. He gave this priceless insight to young preachers: “Think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself keen—then enter the pulpit and let yourself go!”
That’s what Paul did for young Timothy.