Playing by the Rules
If you want to win—or even compete—you’ve got to follow the rules of the game.
Despite his own hardships, Paul kept writing to encourage young Timothy, helping him to cope with and prepare for a difficult life of ministry. Though hardships were inevitable, Paul told the young man to remember the teachings of his mother and grandmother (1:5–6; 3:14–15), pressing forward in ministry with endurance, boldness, and faithfulness. To emphasize his point, Paul gives three illustrations of perseverance in the midst of tribulation—a soldier (2:3b–4), an athlete (2:5), and a farmer (2:6).
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5).
It is not always the most gifted athlete that wins the gold medal. Often the one that stands atop the podium is the athlete that disciplines himself in preparation.
However, all the hard work in the world doesn’t matter if an athlete refuses to compete according to the rules. A sprinter can dedicate a decade of their life to transforming their body into a human rocket and, if they are unwilling to stay in their lane during the race, they will never experience success. A weightlifter can hoist more weight over their head than anyone else in the world, but if they can’t pass a steroid test, it’s all for naught.
In the first century, athletes also had to meet three qualifications to compete in the Games: nationality, preparation, and competition. The competitors all had to be Greek-born, they had to endure a minimum ten-month training period prior to competition, and they had to adhere to the rules of their specific event. Failure to comply with any of the above qualifications meant ineligibility.
Paul draws a parallel between these first century athletes and those who would follow Jesus Christ. Christians have qualification we must meet.
First, nationality: Believers must be citizens of the Kingdom of God, or, born again (John 3:3). Second, preparation: We must endure intentional training for godliness (1 Cor. 9:24–27). Third, competition: If we want to compete in the life of a Christian, we must “live according to Christ’s divine standards of discipleship.”
As believers, we have met the first qualification. However, the remaining two require discipline, self-control, intentionality, and reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:8–11; Rom. 8:26; 1 Cor. 2:6–14).
Believers endure the hardships of the Christian life by living in a way that mirrors how a qualified athlete competes—within the bounds of the rules.
It seems today that athletes are often looking to skirt the line between legal and illegal, searching for the slightest advantage over fellow competitors. The rules must be adhered to in order to compete, let alone win.
As Christians, we must pay attention to the rules of the game that Jesus modelled. Following these rules we remain qualified competitors. This, in turn, gives us hope in the eternal reward that awaits us at the end of the race. Such hope empowers Christians to continue to endure. May we endure!
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