Recently I spent a number of weeks studying 2 Timothy in anticipation of teaching an overview of the book to an equipping class at our church. Being very familiar with this letter from Paul after many, many readings and after much meditation, I was pleasantly surprised to find several passages that caught my attention and made me dig a little deeper. I will devote several blogs to these studies and meditations.
In the second chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul issues a number of exhortations that are fitting for all those who have been intentionally set apart for the proclamation and ministry of the gospel, and verses 3 and 4 introduce us to the analogy of a soldier. 3) “Endure hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4) 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.” Here in 2:4 is a verse that is to be applied and obeyed, but to be obeyed the verse must be understood. The purpose of this blog is to study this verse in order to understand, apply and obey the verse.
In order to better understand the verse, we need to answer some important questions. Since this verse is explicitly addressed to “soldiers in active service,” one question we need to answer is, “Are all believers ‘soldiers in active service’ as this verse describes them?” In one sense, the answer is ‘yes,’ since we are all involved in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-17, for example) and we all wrestle against the world, the flesh and the devil. So we could honestly say that al believers are soldiers. I would say, however, that not all believers are ‘soldiers in active service’ as described by this verse. I think that Paul’s intent here is to bring home to Timothy the exclusive commitment that is made by the man for whom the proclamation of the gospel and for whom service to Christ and to His church is the primary work of his life. “The soldier in active service” is the man who has been set apart to labor for the Lord as his dominant life’s work. This soldier identifies himself as the Lord’s bond-servant and accepts that he will not have the luxury to get off this path and enjoy the civilian life. As we shall see, there are applications for all believers from this verse, but this verse is intended to exhort full-time pastors and teachers, those who have turned off the civilian path and taken the steeper trail.
Next, we should consider what it means to become “entangled” in the affairs of everyday life, focusing on the word “entangled.” (Note: The NASB translates the Greek as “entangled,” but the word could also be translated as “involved in” or “mixed up in.”) There is a danger for a soldier in battle if he cannot get his sword out from its sheath and get it ready to do its work. If the sword becomes entangled in the soldier’s cloak or gets caught up in some article of clothing, then the soldier’s life is at risk. Rather, the soldier in active service knows that it is a matter of life and death to have all his weapons at the ready and so he pares his life down to the bare essentials, to the things that will allow him to brandish his sword and to vanquish the enemy in battle and do what his commanding officer calls on him to do. So the soldier guards against any kind of entanglement.
We should also consider what is meant by “the affairs of everyday life.” If life in Paul’s day was complicated enough to entangle the soldier in the affairs of everyday life, certainly the affairs of our life pose a much greater danger. The “affairs of everyday life,” then, are all the good things that can divert our time and money away from the best things, away from the things that most directly glorify God and that more intentionally carry us down the path of greater sanctification. But the “affairs of everyday life” also include all the distractions and temptations that the world, the flesh and the devil throw at the believer to make sure that they are not useful to the Master and to ruin their effectiveness for the gospel. To repeat, our modern life is full of both “good distractions” and not-so-good entanglements that can reduce our ability to please our commanding officer. The challenge with these “affairs of everyday life,” then, for the “soldier in active service” and for the ordinary believer is to see these potential entanglements and to avoid their effects.
APPLICATION FOR “THE SOLDIER IN ACTIVE SERVICE”:
As I have understood this verse, it serves as an admonition to the “soldier in active service,” the one who has been set apart for the work of the gospel to be very careful in how they relate to and become involved in the affairs of “everyday life.” Being a gospel servant who has been set apart for the work of the Kingdom comes with rigor and sacrifice. Just as the life of a soldier is designed and crafted to maximize their effectiveness in battle and to carry out the commander’s orders with precision, so the soldier set apart for the gospel must design and craft their life to include those things that please the Master but excludes those things that waste time and money and energy in vain pursuits. Because of the greater demands of the greater commitment, some things that would be completely okay even for an ordinary believer may entangle the gospel soldier. More time will be spent in study of the Word and in ministry to others and in service and proclamation to those who have not yet believed in Christ, and this will mean that leisure time will be rare. Because of being set apart, the call to “make the most of the time” (Ephesians 5:16) must be taken more seriously and what falls under the heading of “make the most” is more rigorous. The priorities of life must be narrowly focused and most time must be spent on those priorities.
The challenge will be with the “affairs of everyday life.” Each one must work this out with fear and trembling, but decisions will be made in light of the priority of the work of the gospel and glory of the Kingdom. Decisions about entertainment and housing; choices affecting the children and the parents; what to do about cars and how much to spend on furniture and cell phones and clothing; when to take vacations (Do you take vacations?) and where to go on vacations and how long to stay; and countless other aspects of everyday life will come under scrutiny. This is complicated and lifelong, but I believe that this is what Paul is saying to “the soldier in active service.” Again, it is a life of rigor and sacrifice, of spending and being expended for others (2 Cor. 12:15). To have the privilege of serving as a gospel soldier comes with the expense of giving up everything for Christ and of living a life intentionally focused on pleasing the Master. This is part of what Paul means when he says to endure hardship.
APPLICATION FOR THE ‘ORDINARY BELIEVER’:
While I think that Paul was giving his exhortation in 2:4 to those who, like Timothy, had made a commitment to the gospel ministry, I think that the principles expressed here apply to all believers. That is, all believers need to recognize the potential dangers of becoming entangled in the affairs of everyday life. The challenge of not being distracted from the mission and of not being neutralized as a witness for Christ is a very real challenge for all believers, although the sacrifices are not as severe and the lines are not necessarily drawn as sharply or in the same places as they would be for the gospel soldier. What this means is that every believer must be diligent to avoid those things that would weigh them down (Hebrews 12:1) and would render them less useful to the Kingdom. Taking on too much expense can make it impossible for you to give as the Lord would have you give (2 Cor. 9:6-7; Ephesians 4:28). Making lifestyle choices that give you things that the world values can hurt your witness and can burden you with things that are not valued in heaven. It is up to each believer to make these decisions and bring these before the Lord, but the principle is clear. Live a simple life and be extravagant to the Lord and to other people and think about how you can make your life more useful to the Master and more effective for Kingdom service. In so doing, consciously make choices that will leave you with undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35; 2 Corinthians 11:3).
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